Time and time again this season, the Washington Capitals have given up at least the first goal of the game, often times having to dig themselves out of a hole. That was once again the case Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who scored the first two goals of the game. This time defenseman Matt Niskanen – who used to play for Pittsburgh – played the role of hero for the Caps, as he scored a power play goal with 6:22 remaining in the third period in what was essentially the game-winner.
Pittsburgh struck first at 6:14 of the first period when Evgeni Malkin found the back of the net for the 24th time this season. The Pens held a 1-0 lead after the first period of play. It didn’t take long for the Penguins to add to that in the second period as Patric Hornqvist scored his 16th goal of the season 3:45 into the second period. This came the night after he recorded a hat trick in a 6-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, it was all downhill from there.
Washington would respond by scoring three unanswered goals, starting with Mike Richard’s second goal since signing with the Capitals in early January 39 seconds after the Pens scored. Later in the period, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his 20th goal of the campaign to knot the score at two-apiece heading into the final period. Kuznetsov now has 65 points on the season, which leads the team and ranks 5th in the NHL.
It was a back-and-forth battle with neither team able to light the lamp until Niskanen took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and buried a slap shot past Penguins net minder Matthew Murray.
Braden Holtby recorded his 40th win of the season for the second consecutive season by stopping 28 shots. He is the first goalie to win 40 or more games in back-to-back season since Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks from 2007-2009. Holtby is just the seventh goalie in NHL history to achieve the feat.
The Caps improved their NHL-best record to 46-12-4 while the Pens dropped to 32-22-8.
The marquee matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby failed to deliver for a third time this season. Crosby assisted on Hornqvist’s goal while Ovechkin was held without a point. The superstar duo has combined for just one point in head-to-head matchups this season and it was Crosby’s assist on Tuesday night. Ovechkin only registered three shots and Crosby didn’t register one.
Washington will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second of back-to-back games on Wednesday night and the New York Rangers on Friday. After the two home games, the Caps will travel to Boston on Saturday to face the Bruins before heading out west for a three-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.