Instant Analysis: Penguins 4, Capitals 3

Instant Analysis: Penguins 4, Capitals 3
January 15, 2014, 10:30 pm
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Caps fall 4-3 to rival Penguins

Instant analysis of the Capitals’ crushing 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center:

How it happened: Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta won it with 1:54 remaining in regulation when his wrist shot from the point sailed past four players and into the left side of the net. Evgeni Malkin set up the goal by skating the entire circumference of the offensive zone before dropping a pass for Maatta.

What it means: The Capitals failed to move ahead of the idle Philadelphia Flyers, who are tid with them with 52 points. The Caps are now 18 points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins, who set a franchise record with their 13th straight win at home.

How they scored: Brooks Laich’s shorthanded goal 13:09 into the first period was the third shorty for the Caps this season and the first since Nicklas Backstrom scored one Nov. 30 on Long Island. Joel Ward has the other. Karl Alzner started the play with a good pinch, intercepting Kris Letang’s outlet pass. Letang committed early on Laich, wh hit the brakes and went top shelf on Fleury. The Pens answered 9:53 into the second period when Letang led a rush up the ice and had his shot tick off the stick of a backchecking Nicklas Backstrom and past Neuvirth. The Caps regained the lead on Jason Chimera’s ninth goal of the season. He parked himself in the crease and banged home an perfect one-time pass from Marcus Johansson, who received a nice cross-ice feed from defenseman Dmitry Orlov. The Penguins answered when Taylor Pyatt faked a shot, Tom Wilson went down, and Pyatt beat Neuvirth for his first goal of the season. The Caps took their third lead of the game 8:35 into the third period when Alex Ovechkin dropped his stick, then picked it up just in time to rocket a Johansson pass into the net for his 34th goal of the season. But just three minutes later the Pens tied the score again on Jussi Jokinen’s 13th goal. Orlov got to Jokinen a split second too late and the Finn popped a shot over Neuvirth.

Line combos: Adam Oates went with the same lines that finished Tuesday night’s 2-1 shootout loss to San Jose. Brooks Laich stayed on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Alex Ovechkin, while Eric Fehr remained with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brower.

Scout watch: NHL scouts in attendance Wednesday night were representatives from Toronto, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Edmonton and Philadelphia, along with two from the Columbus Blue Jackets, whom the Caps visit on Friday.

Trade value: If the Capitals are trying to move goaltender Michal Neuvirth, they may have learned on Wednesday his estimated return value. In a pair of trades involving three teams, the Edmonton Oilers sent goaltender Devan Dubnyk, 27, to the Nashville Predators for former Capitals fourth liner Matt Hendricks, then acquired goaltender Ben Scrivens, 27, from the Kings for a third-round pick in the 2014 NHL draft. NO disrespect to Hendricks, but does Wednesday’s deals mean the market value for Neuvirth is little more than a third-round pick or a fourth-line player?

Look ahead: After the game the Capitals were scheduled to charter a flight to Columbus, where they’ll practice on Thursday in preparation for Friday night’s game against the Blue Jackets. Judging from Oates’ comments before the game, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Philipp Grubauer is between the pipes.