The Finnish duo of Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maatta each scored in the third period, pushing the Pittsburgh Penguins to their team-record 13th straight home win, a 4-3 decision over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
Seven minutes after Jokinen tied the game, Maatta put the Pens on top for good with 1:54 to go in the latest edition of this Metropolitian Division feud. The 19-year-old rookie defenseman took a pass from the darting Evgeni Malkin and wristed his fourth NHL goal through a screen to break the deadlock.
With the big-bodied Taylor Pyatt in front, Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth never had a chance to stop Maatta’s game-winner. The Penguins, now 20-3 at Consol Energy Center, won 12 in a row at home last year to establish the franchise’s previous best.
Washington generated a few chances with an extra attacker in the final minute, but first-place Pittsburgh (34-12-2, 70 points) pleased the latest sellout crowd with its 14th win in 17 games. But this one wasn’t routine for the Pens, as they had to rally back from three one-goal deficits to expand their division lead over the second-place Caps (22-17-8, 52 points).
Jokinen and Maatta each assisted on Pyatt’s first goal as a Penguin, while defensemen Matt Niskanen (two assists) and Kris Letang (goal) also chipped in on the offensive end. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots, doing some of his finest work in the second period when Washington threatened to pull away.
Still, Alex Ovechkin‘s league-leading 34th goal of the season at 8:35 of the third put the visitors ahead 3-2. Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera also scored for the Capitals, with Marcus Johansson helping on a pair.
Laich took advantage of Letang’s errand breakout pass during a Penguins first-period power play to score the game’s first goal. Laich cut into the low slot and powered through a sprawling Letang to net his fifth at 13:09.
Letang responded midway through the second with the equalizer. The maligned blueliner was the beneficiary of a clinical Pittsburgh counterattack that saw Tanner Glass and Sidney Crosby exchange possession quickly on the right wing. Letang’s attempted pass for Chris Kunitz deflected off a Washington stick and under Neuvirth for his ninth.
Johansson hooked up with Chimera in front for a tap-in five minutes later, but the Pens struck back with four minutes left on the second-period clock when Maatta took a feed from Jokinen, faked a shot on the left wing and connected with Pyatt for a one-timer from the left circle.
Washington took advantage of some 4-on-4 confusion on Ovechkin’s third-period blast from his favored left side; however, Brandon Sutter made a strong backhand feed to Jokinen for a jam play in another eight-skater situation with 8:25 remaining. Jokinen’s 13th set the stage for his younger countryman Maatta, who will also play for Finland at the upcoming Olympics.
The Penguins don’t play again until Monday night against Florida. Faceoff at Consol Energy Center is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Notes: AHL call-ups Nick Drazenovic and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond each dressed for the Penguins for the first time. Drazenovic, 27, played just over 10 minutes on the third line and recorded three shots…James Neal (upper body), Chuck Kobasew (lower body) and Simon Despres (healthy) were the scratches for Pittsburgh…The top two power plays in the NHL combined to go 0 for 5…The Pens outshot the Caps 12-5 in the third and 37-28 for the game.