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Maatta, Penguins extend home winning streak to thirteen

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The Pittsburgh Penguins extended their home winning streak to thirteen games, a new franchise record, on Wednesday night with their 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals. With the victory, the Penguins extended their Metropolitan Division lead to eighteen points over the Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

With James Neal being a late scratch with an upper body injury, Taylor Pyatt was moved up to the second line with Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond made his Penguins debut along with Nick Drazenovic. The first period was almost a feeling out process for the two teams until the Penguins got a power play 12:48 due to a Joel Ward tripping call. On the power play, Kris Letang had some difficulty defending his own zone and paid for it. Brooks Laich came in short-handed, and for some reason, Letang went down to block a cross-ice pass, which he did. However, Laich got the puck back and was able to wrist it past Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Washington took their one-goal lead into the first intermission, but trailed in shots, 17-10.

The second period saw the Penguins push back, but also get pushed back. As Kris Letang taketh, Kris Letang giveth as he tied the game at one midway through the period. It seemed as though everyone in a black jersey touched the puck during the play. It started with Chris Kunitz carrying the puck out of the Penguins’ zone and moving it to Tanner Glass. Glass then shuffled the puck to Sidney Crosby who dropped it off for Letang. It appeared as though Letang wanted to get the puck back to Kunitz, but instead it hit a couple of sticks and found its way behind Michal Neuvirth. It took about four and a half minutes for the Capitals to regain the lead when they showed that they can pass the puck around as well. The play started with Joel Ward taking the puck behind the Pittsburgh net before find Dmitry Orlov on the blueline. Orlov wasted no time in finding Marcus Johansson along the boards. Finally, Johansson centered the puck to Jason Chimera who flicked the puck in the net to give the Caps the 2-1 lead. As mentioned previously, Taylor Pyatt was moved to the second line with James Neal nursing an upper body injury. With about four minutes remaining in the period, Pyatt rose to the occasion. Evgeni Malkin carried the puck into the Washington zone before dishing it off to Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen then found his soon-to-be Finnish teammate Olli Maatta who made Tom Wilson look foolish with a shot fake. Maatta centered the puck to Pyatt who then beat Neuvirth for his first goal as a Penguin to tie the game at two. The second period tied with both sides tied at two, but Washington led in shots, 13-8.

The third period brought along anticipation of another classic ending as the Penguins and Capitals are prone to achieve. The Caps were first to make a move when they once again regained the lead about eight and a half minutes into the period. In a 4-on-4 situation, Alex Ovechkin broke the tie with snipe on Fleury after dropping and retrieving his stickin the same moment. In a puzzling turn, Dan Bylsma, in what he later called his “harebrained idea,” put three defensemen on the ice. The three were Brooks Orpik, Robert Bortuzzo, and Letang at forward. It appeared that Orpik and Letang got their assignments mixed up which left no one covering Ovechkin for the quick goal. It really is something to watch how quickly Ovechkin gets his shot off once he takes a pass. About three minutes later, Jussi Jokinen continued his hot month of January when he tied the game at three. Jokinen was left alone in front of Neuvirth as Nicklas Backstrom left his man after Jokinen went behind the Washington net. Brandon Sutter saw this and threw the puck to the Finnish Olympian who shoveled it in the net for his thirteenth goal of the season and fourth of the month. It almost appeared that overtime was imminent, but Olli Maatta had different plans. With about two minutes left in the game, the nineteen year-old defenseman took a pass from Evgeni Malkin at the point, pump-faked Joel Ward, and wristed the puck through traffic and a heavily screened Michal Neuvirth to give the Penguins the 4-3 lead and victory. What a screen by Taylor Pyatt on the game-winning goal.

The Penguins are now off until Monday the twentieth when they take on the visiting Florida Panthers for a 7:00 pm/et puck drop (Root Sports, FS-F, RDS).

Notes:

-First career game-winning goal for Olli Maatta, who keeps playing beyond his years.

-No doubt the best game as a Penguin by Taylor Pyatt.

-Simon Despres, Nick Drazenovic, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond were all sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

-Not only does Pittsburgh have an eighteen point division lead, but they also hold a ten point lead over the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning for the lead in the Eastern Conference.

Three stars:

1. PIT D Olli Maatta (1G, 1A)

2. PIT LW Jussi Jokinen (1G, 1A)

3. WSH RW Alex Ovechkin (1G)

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