Observations from the Penguins' 3-1 win against the Capitals Wednesday:
-Let's get this out of the way first. This was awful to watch. Outside of a few spurts of life in the third period, this was just a dreadfully boring game. And it's becoming all too common with the Penguins as well as the NHL these days.
-NBC put some new high-end birds-eye view cameras in the rink tonight and they provided a fantastic view of the rink. But there was little in the way of action to actually display.
-As far as the result, it clearly was a step forward for the Penguins. They fact they were able to score three goals - including one empty netter - in regulation was progress. There were still plenty of warts, especially on the power play, but the Penguins took a step in the right direction in this game.
-Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury continued his stellar play and was the prime reason they won this game. He was only beaten for one goal and it was a double deflection off his teammates. The Penguins would be the Columbus Blue Jackets were it not for Fleury.
-After getting trounced by the Stars 4-1 last Thursday, head coach Mike Johnston essentially called out his players for losing their composure whenever they faced adversity or something strange which worked against them. Well tonight, something like that happened on the game's first goal and they found themselves trailing. They were able to rebound from that and earn this win.
-The first period produced a fair amount of shots. The Penguins had 14 shots while the Capitals had 13. But to to call it "entertaining" would require a shift in the definition of "entertaining." A lot of them were low-percentage shots which Fleury and Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will eat up all day long.
The Penguins got a power play early on when Capitals center Chandler Stephenson elbowed Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta at the 6:09 mark. Then 15 seconds later, former Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik boarded Penguins right winger Phil Kessel. That gave the Penguins 1:45 of a five-on-three power play. Despite that lengthy two-man advantage, they could only muster two shots. Two. They actually missed the net twice during that 1:45 span.
The Penguins got another chance with a five-on-four advantage after Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner was nabbed for high sticking Penguins left winger David Perron at the 8:28 mark. Once again, they struggled to get the puck on net and only officially recorded one shot on net during that span.
-The second period was pretty one-sided in favor of the Capitals. They had 14 shots while the Penguins had four. Some of that was due to the fact the Capitals had the only two power-play chances in the period.
-Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was called for slashing at the 7:21 mark. The Capitals were able to generate three shots with that power play but couldn't figure out Fleury.
-Less than two minutes later at the 10:53 mark, Perron finished off a strong shift by being too aggressive on a hit against Capitals right winger Tom Wilson near the Penguins' bench and ended up charging him. The Capitals put four shots on net and once again, Fleury was up to the challenge. At one point, after he denied Capitals left winger Marcus Johansen on a quality chance in tight, the always strong gathering of Penguins fans in the Verizon Center were chanting "FLERRR-EEEEE! FLERR-EEEE!"
-There was plenty of hitting going on throughout the game with the Capitals initiating a lot of it. Things boiled over at the end of the second period. After Capitals center Jay Beagle was denied on a backhanded shot by Fleury, Wilson and Beagle crashed in hoping for a rebound. Several Penguins took exception and all heck broke loose. Wilson at one point, was dragging and shaking Penguins right winger Patric Hornqvist around by his shoulder pads. Wilson and Cole each ended up with roughing minors with 21 seconds left in the period.
-The third period followed a very different script. With all the open ice created by four-on-four play, the Penguins were able to get two shots. The Capitals responded by getting the game's first goal.
-At the the 1:28 mark, Captials center Evgeny Kuznetsov snapped off a wrister from the left circle. The puck hit off the stick of Maatta then the right skate of defenseman Rob Scuderi and deflected through Fleury's five hole. It was a little fluky but it broke the stalemate and gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
-The Penguins didn't waste much time in tying the game. They needed all of 24 seconds to respond. Off the ensuing faceoff, Scuderi and Maatta stayed on the ice and really kickstarted the play leading to their first goal. Scuderi controlled a puck behind his net, moved forward and backhanded a pass from the left of the cage to Maatta on the Penguins' right half wall. Maatta then snapped off a cross-ice stretch pass which center Nick Bonino tipped to right winger Beau Bennett on the right wing. Bennett moved in on net and lifted a wrister from the right circle. Holtby made the initial save but allowed a rebound. Bennett followed up on the puck and buried it by Holtby on the near side to make it 1-1..
-Just over two minutes later, the Penguins took a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Perron gained the offensive zone down the slot and fed a pass to Kessel on the left half wall. Kessel left a pass for center Evgeni Malkin on a criss-cross play. Malkin worked his way down low on the left wing and from below the goal line, he fed the puck back to Kessel above the crease. With Perron tying up Alzner in the crease, Kessel was able to bury the puck by Holtby's glove hand at the 16:11 mark to make it a 2-1 game.
-The Capitals did have a chance to tie the game up when Cole was called for interference after he slammed center Brooks Laich to the ice to the left of the Penguins' cage away from the puck. The Penguins' penalty killers came up big in that two-minute span by not allowing the Capitals to generate a shot on net.
-The Capitals made a few pushes late to tie the game in five-on-five play including a big one-timer by captain/left winger Alex Ovechkin which Fleury got a piece of. But the could only get two shots on net by the time the Penguins took a 3-1 lead. With Holtby pulled for an extra attacker, Bonino flung a puck from his own left half wall down ice into an open cage for one of us:
-Not to beat a dead horse, but once again, Fleury was the dominating factor in how this game turned out. It's scary to think where the season would be if he wasn't playing at this level.
-The Penguins' power play continues to frustrate. It's almost a waste of two minutes, even for the opposition. They went back to having Hornqvist on the top unit with center Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Letang but little change in terms of success. They seem determined to work that cross-ice pass which the Capitals read pretty well.
-Perron had one of his better games of the season and got his first point in 2015-16. He even brought a sorely needed physical element and was one of the few Penguins players willing to stand up to the Capitals efforts to knock them around. He needed a game like this badly.
-Crosby continues to struggle. He's not a liability by any means. He led the team with four shots. But he just looked like another player on the ice.
-Beau Bennett looked really sharp in his first game back from his celebration injury. He logged 13:03 of ice time on 17 shifts, had three shots and scored a very important goal. He even threw a few hits in what was primarily a fourth-line role with center Matt Cullen and Kevin Porter at left wing.
-Ben Lovejoy and Brian Dumoulin had a really strong game. They saw a lot of the Capitals' top line and Lovejoy in particular saw a lot of Ovechkin. He had a lot of little stick-on-puck plays which stymied Ovechkin.
-The Penguins' penalty kill once again came up big.
-Somehow, the notion of the Penguins having won five of their past six games is strange.
-The Capitals entered the game with an offense averaging 4.1 goals per game but there was little evidence of that offensive potential in this game. Fleury really buttoned things down the Capitals just didn't look as explosive as they normally do.
-Holtby could have been a little better, particularly on the goal Bennett scored.
-Like Crosby, Ovechkin looked rather ordinary.
-Johnston felt the Penguins' response to the Kuznetsov goal was key:
"I really like our three shifts after they scored. They scored at the beginning of the third. I know we scored but we just felt like started to take the momentum back away from them even though they they gained it. "
-Fleury was asked if he has an easier time staying in the flow of the game if he faces more shots:
“I sweat more.”
-After injuring himself celebrating a goal Oct. 13 against the Canadiens, Bennett joked that he adjusted his celebration technique:
"I kept my arms in tight."
-The Capitals led in shots, 34-25.
-Ovechkin and Capitals right winger T.J. Oshie each led the game with five shots.
-Crosby led the Penguins with four shots.
-Defenseman John Carlson led the game in ice time with 25:16.
-Letang led the Penguins with 24:19 of ice time.
-Former Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen led the game with five blocked shots.
-Fire Jim Rutherford.
-Center Nick Bonino led the Penguins with four blocked shots.
-Crosby was 18 for 26 in faceoffs (69 percent).
-Kuznetsov was 9 for 18 (50 percent).
-Letang played in his 500th career game.
-Bennett played in his 100th career game.
-Bennett scored goals in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
-Perron recorded an assist on Kessel's goal and snapped a streak of 20 regular season games without a point.
(Photo: Alex Brandon/Associated Press)