Pens prove to be a perfect 10 in win over Capitals
Matt Niskanen said the Penguins want to get better at winning games.
They blocked 24 shots — five in the final minutes while protecting a one-goal lead — in a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
“It's not just going out there to play and hopefully someone gets some points and this and that, and we win like that,” Niskanen said. “We're trying to fine tune things.”
The Penguins (23-8-0, 46 points) were without two of their three best players — center Evgeni Malkin and top defenseman Kris Letang. Nobody on the NHL's highest-scoring line — left winger Chris Kunitz, center Sidney Crosby, right winger Pascal Dupuis — scored a goal.
They won for the 10th consecutive time, anyway.
Defensemen scored each of the goals.
Paul Martin, logging 28 minutes with top defenseman Kris Letang (lower-body injury) out, matched a career-high with his sixth goal in the second period.
Niskanen scored for the first time in 13 games, his third-period marker coming nine seconds after the Penguins killed a four-minute Capitals' power play.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves.
He said the spotlight should shine on a penalty kill that turned this contest even though one of its better forwards — left winger Matt Cooke — was in the box.
Cooke received minors for boarding Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and an unsportsmanlike conduct with about 12 minutes remaining and the score tied, 1-1.
The ensuing four minutes featured:
Fierce backchecking from Dupuis; smart own-zone play by Brandon Sutter; stout one-on-one defending from Brooks Orpik; and three consecutive faceoff wins from Crosby.
Ten-game winning streaks do not happen accidentally.
Neither did that penalty kill, which stymied the Capitals' third-rated power play.
Ovechkin, who in the second period scored on the power play for his 17th career goal against the Penguins, said the Capitals' failure to take advantage on the power play in the third “killed us.”
“And they got momentum,” he said.
A sellout crowd at Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins are 9-4-0 after a 0-2 start, was noticeably loud, Penguins players such as Sutter, Martin and Dupuis said.
The crowd turned deafening when Niskanen bested Capitals goalie Braden Holtby after the Penguins' killed off those four minutes.
Cooke, who shot out of the box, fed Niskanen the pass.
That goal pushed the Penguins ahead and Crosby's lead in the scoring race to 10 points.
He has 50 and is on a pace of 1.61 per game — his exact rate over 41 games two years ago, when he was considered the planet's dominant hockey player and his Penguins, winners of 12 in a row at one point, were thought of as the league's top team.
This 10-game run reminds him of that not-so-distant past.
“I like our attitude and that we've won different games — when they've been high scoring, not that we accepted those, but we found a way to get those goals when we needed them, and in close games that are tight checking like this, we've found ways to get big plays,” Crosby said.
“I like our mindset.”