Following their 0-2 start to the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked to keep their momentum going against the Washington Capitals following their shootout win, their first, on Sunday afternoon. Monday’s matchup with the Caps didn’t need the shootout but did go to overtime where captain Sidney Crosby’s heroics led the Pens past Washington for the second time in three nights to improve their record to 2-2 on the year.
The two teams were back at PPG Paints Arena last night, and the Pens made only one change to the lineup from their previous game, moving Sam Lafferty to the press box, and inserting Kasperi Kapanen into the lineup, in his much anticipated and long-awaited debut. Although Kapanen was slated to skate on the teams top-line alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, he began the game on the fourth-line with Teddy Blueger and Colton Sceviour.
Coach Mike Sullivan was asked about his decision to start Kapanen on line four:
“Its not an easy thing when you’ve been in quarantine and you’ve been skating by yourself back home in Finland, but not really being in a team environment for a long time. He’s only had two practices, one with the taxi squad and one team one. That’s a tough challenge for a player. We didn’t want him in a difficult circumstance, so that’s why we started him on the fourth line. He got a few shifts with Sid’s line and he had the odd shift with Geno’s line, but we tried to manage his minutes.”
Nevertheless, he made the most of his opportunity in the first period, displaying his great speed as he took the puck end-to-end and finished off the play with a shot that handcuffed Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek, and resulted in a rebound goal for Colton Sceviour’s second of the year that tied the game at one. That would be the Finnish-forwards only point on the evening in what was a very productive night for the fourth-line, but he made his presence felt throughout the game and will surely be playing higher up in the lineup soon enough.
Overall, the game was quite sloppy with poor defensive play for both teams. Casey DeSmith got the nod in goal for the second straight game and struggled in the first period allowing three goals on eleven shots. Despite the rough start, DeSmith settled down in the final two periods allowing just one Evgeny Kuznetsov goal midway through the second period. DeSmith’s biggest play of the game however, was an offensive one late in the third period. While the Pens were killing off a 5-on-3 powerplay, DeSmith sent an aerial stretch-pass to spring forward Teddy Blueger on a breakaway where he made a great move to beat Vanecek five-hole and cut the Caps lead to one.
In the postgame press conference, DeSmith discussed the play. “I was just trying to get it down the ice. Teddy was in the right place at the right time. Yeah, that just worked out great…But I’ll take it.”
It was a messy game at both ends of the ice but a huge positive takeaway for the Penguins is that some of their struggling stars finally got on the board. Jake Guentzel added another goal and assist to his impressive start to the season, while Sidney Crosby had two assists on the night alongside his OT winning goal. The Captain scored on a big rebound after a Kris Letang point-shot just over a minute into the overtime frame. Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin finally got on the scoresheet with a huge powerplay goal at 17:15 of the third period to tie the game at four. Pens star-defenseman Kris Letang also broke through his slump adding two assists in the game on a night where he logged over 28 minutes of ice-time.
Additionally, the Pens third-line were shutout once again after a promising start to the season, and star-forward Jason Zucker failed to get on the scoresheet yet again and was a minus-1 on the night. The team is desperate to get Zucker going. The California-native was a second-round pick (59th overall) in the 2010 draft by the Minnesota Wild and was acquired at the trade deadline last year for Calen Addison, Alex Galchenyuk, and the Pens first-round pick in 2021. The 29-year-old has just one assist through four games this season.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, two defensemen left yesterday’s contest with injury and forced the team to play with just four defensemen for the second half of the game. Both Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola suffered upper-body injuries which is a big blow to a struggling Pens defense. Pettersson has been one of the most consistent players on the teams’ roster for the past two seasons and posted a career-high 22 points a year ago. The 24-year-old has been a reliable and key part of the teams d-core. Thus far, the Swede has a goal through four games and his absence will be felt if his injury is long-term.
On the other hand, Riikola has been a solid depth defenseman who was filling in for an already injured Mike Matheson. The 27-year-old was playing in just his second game of the season and was praised for forming an impressive partnership with Chad Ruhwedel, as the Pens bottom-pair. With the injuries to Pettersson and Ruhwedel, and Coach Sullivan already stating that Matheson’s injury will be longer-term, the Pens already struggling blueline is looking very thin.
Coach Sullivan on Pettersson and Riikola: “Those guys are both being evaluated with upper-body injuries. I don’t have an update for you right now.”
Captain Sidney Crosby showed high praise for his teams defensemen for logging extra minutes while two men short: “Five D is a chore for any team, but four, I thought they did a really good job of managing that…That was a huge performance from all of those guys to find a way to get it done.”
Despite the unorthodox and sloppy performance from both teams, the Penguins showed their mental toughness and fought back to ultimately defeat the Capitals in overtime in what was a difficult defensive game. They will look to improve their record to 3-2 on Friday night at 7PM EST when they host Artemi Panarin and the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena. It is unclear whether the Pens will be missing key defenseman, and whether or not Coach Sullivan will go back to Tristan Jarry, or stick with Casey DeSmith in goal. The Rangers are 1-2 on the year and come into Pittsburgh on their first road-trip of the year.