March 19, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Beau Bennett (19) breaks up ice with the puck ahead of Washington Capitals right wing Eric Fehr (16) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Opportunity Lost: Penguins 2 - Capitals 1

Matt Cooke gave the Washington Capitals a fantastic chance to end the Pittsburgh Penguins’ nine-game winning streak in front of their home fans on Tuesday night. Then just like that, Cooke and Sidney Crosby combined to make sure the Caps were leaving town without any points.

The Pens killed off Cooke’s third period double minor and wasted no time turning a three-on-two into Matt Niskanen‘s game-winner, securing a 2-1 win at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal and Braden Holtby made 34 saves, but it wasn’t enough to keep Washington from falling to 12-16-1 on the season.

Well known for his disciplinary problems, Cooke showed some of his old form at the 7:49 mark of the final period. After getting called for boarding Ovechkin, Cooke put his team in a tight spot by earning an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for his behavior toward the officials.

The Capitals got good looks during the ensuing man advantage on one-timers from Eric Fehr and Ovechkin. But the Penguins’ penalty killers did their job, whipping the home fans into a frenzy in the process, and Pittsburgh put the game away right after the penalties expired. Sidney Crosby found Cooke coming out of the box, who hit a trailing Niskanen to fire high over Holtby’s left shoulder for his fourth goal of 2013.

Crosby also assisted on Paul Martin‘s second period power play goal to record the 200th multi-point game of his NHL career. That knotted the game 1-1 less than three minutes after Ovechkin got the scoring started with his team-high 12th goal of the season.

Both goalies were sharp in the early going, with Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury each asked to turn aside double-digit shots in the first 20 minutes. Fleury finished with 28 saves on 29 shots to pick up the win.

The loss ruined the season debuts of both Brooks Laich and Dmitry Orlov for the Caps. Laich began the game on the fourth line, but saw time on special teams and eventually skated with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top forward unit late in the contest. Orlov was partnered with Jeff Schultz and finished with one hit and one blocked shot in just under 12 minutes of ice time.

Washington will have to rebound in a hurry, as three more road games await before the team skates back into Verizon Center. The Caps have rare back-to-back games against the first place (no, really) Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and Friday, then travel to Madison Square Garden for a Sunday showdown with the New York Rangers.

The game was over when…

Pretty obviously, when the Caps couldn’t capitalize on Cooke’s not entirely unexpected gift. The first three minutes of the power play weren’t bad, but the last minute was a disaster. The Penguins cleared the zone repeatedly and came out flying as soon as things were evened up. Niskanen’s goal on the three-on-two was no shocker.

The unsung Capitals hero was…

Steven Oleksy, despite being on the ice for the game-winner. Once again the rookie defenseman did a little bit of everything, hitting, blocking shots and making some clever plays at the point in the offensive zone. I’m sure he never would have believed he’d be playing in Washington’s top defensive pairing if you had told him that when this season began.


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Tags: Alex Ovechkin Braden Holtby Brooks Laich Pittsburgh Penguins Washington Capitals

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