Penguins back in first after blanking Caps
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Bryan Rust scored two unassisted goals, Tristan Jarry made 23 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins shut out the Washington Capitals 3-0 Saturday night to reclaim first place in the East Division.
Trade deadline pickup Jeff Carter also scored his fourth goal in 10 games in a Penguins uniform. Jarry registered his second shutout of the season as the Penguins beat the Capitals for the sixth time in eight meetings this season.
“We kind of just set a blueprint for ourselves on how we’ve got play to beat this team — things we’ve got to do kind of in the defensive zone, through the offensive zone and I think that’s important moving forward,” said Rust, whose goals were the 99th and 100th of his NHL career.
Two nights after each team clinched a playoff berth, this potential postseason preview looked awfully lopsided. The Penguins pounced on opportunities and scored on three of their first 13 shots against Ilya Samsonov to suck the life out of the crowd of just over 2,000.
“Obviously, you’re going to have games like this,” Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom said. “They’re a good team. They were playing good defensively. Tough loss.”
It was far from the complement of talent either team would want in a playoff series. The Capitals didn’t have captain and leading goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin and top defenseman John Carlson because of lower-body injuries, and the Penguins remained without forward Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Tanev with injuries that have kept them out for several weeks.
But Pittsburgh hasn’t slowed down. With captain Sidney Crosby inching into the MVP discussion, the Penguins have won 16 of 23 games without Malkin and again look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
“It’s just trying to put us in the best possible position come playoff time and I think that’s our mindset,” Jarry said. “We want to do as well as we can in each game and try and finish the season strong and put us in a good position come the time the playoffs start.”
The Capitals didn’t get the save they needed from Samsonov either when Garnet Hathaway fell down on Rust’s first goal or when Dmitry Orlov couldn’t get back after the puck bounced off him on Rust’s second.
The Penguins got five saves from Jarry during a two-minute span late in the second period when the Capitals were buzzing. Jarry got his left pad on a shot by Anthony Mantha driving to the net and slid over to deny Evgeny Kuznetsov to keep it a shutout.
“They pushed hard there and they had momentum in that second half of the second period, and I thought Tristan made some real big saves to keep the score where it was,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s the impact that Tristan can have on the game for us is he makes some key saves at key times that give us an opportunity to win games.”
Pittsburgh went into the season with a goaltending question after trading Matt Murray to Ottawa and turning the duties over to Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Now Washington might have a problem in net, since neither Samsonov nor Vitek Vanecek has any playoff experience.
The Penguins lost Mike Matheson late in the second period when he took a puck to the face and played the rest of the game down to five defensemen. Sullivan didn’t have an update on Matheson’s health.
Malkin’s return could be imminent, and Sullivan just wants the star Russian center to “play his game” when back on the ice.
“Obviously there’s going to be an adjustment process for Geno. He’s been out for quite a while now,” he said, acknowledging it’s difficult to simulate game intensity in practice. “Our hope is that with each game that he plays, he’s going to get back to his true form that we all love watching.”
OVECHKIN STILL OUT
Ovechkin missed a fourth consecutive game, his longest injury absence since 2009. He and Carlson took part an optional practice Friday and the morning skate Saturday but weren’t deemed healthy enough to play.
Penguins: Visit the Philadelphia Flyers for back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday.
HURRICANES 2, BLUE JACKETS 1, OT: RALEIGH, N.C. — Dougie Hamilton scored on a breakaway with 52.1 seconds remaining in overtime to lift Carolina. Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic picked up the assist on the winning play.
Max Domi scored three minutes into the game for the last-place Blue Jackets. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 32 shots.