The Washington Capitals entered this week’s home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins in dire need of wins to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Caps not only lost both games, but they also didn’t earn a single point in the standings.
For the second straight night, the Penguins defeated their Metropolitan Division rivals, this time by a 2-0 score Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center that finished a four-game season-series sweep. Marc-Andre Fleury earned his fifth shutout of the season with 32 saves, including a ridiculous “scorpion” stop in the second period.
Jussi Jokinen and Sidney Crosby netted goals for the Penguins, 4-2-1 since the Olympic break and winners of eight in a row over the Capitals. Pittsburgh (44-17-4, 92 points) moved three points ahead of Boston for first place in the East.
Recent trade acquisition Jaroslav Halak stopped 32 shots for Washington (30-27-10, 70 points) in a strong performance. The Caps remain three points behind Philadelphia for the East’s second (and final) wild-card spot.
Unlike Monday night, when Washington probably deserved better than a 3-2 loss at home, the Penguins controlled play for long stretches, especially in the early going. Pittsburgh outshot the Caps 26-12 through two periods and at one point held a 29-10 advantage in non-blocked shot attempts.
Jokinen scored the only goal the Pens would need with 3:19 to go in the first, deflecting Matt Niskanen‘s shot-pass between Halak’s knees.
Lee Stempniak nearly made it 2-0 on a notable shift moments later, but Halak denied him after he deked through the Caps defense.
New Washington addition Evgeny Kuznetsov, just arrived from Russia, had the visitors’ best chance to break Fleury’s clean sheet in the second period. A loose puck came free to Kuznetsov at the left side of the net, but Fleury thrust his right leg in the air while prone on the ice, stopping the shot somehow.
Fleury had to come up with a few more strong saves in the third, when Washington was credited with 20 shots on goal. Much like how rookie Jeff Zatkoff helped the Pens fend off a late power play Monday, Fleury was the anchor for another penalty kill in the final minutes.
Prior to that, though, Crosby buried his 31st of the season on a 2-on-1 rush with Chris Kunitz. Whereas earlier in the game Crosby had passed on a similar chance, this time he elected to shoot, tucking the puck under Halak’s blocker from the right circle with 5:48 to play.
The Penguins have a rare three-day break before traveling to Philadelphia on Saturday to begin another home-and-home set.