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Getting to Ovechkin Reveals Pens’ Potential When Invested

The Penguins, inconsistent at times, remain a dangerous opponent for the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

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It was, for the most part, an inconsistent and at times frustrating unofficial first half of the season for the Penguins.

It took another one of those high-profile nights against the Capitals to establish that none of that really mattered.

The date was Dec. 19, the location was Washington, D.C., and the occasion was the Pens’ 34th game of the regular season.

What transpired was another epic Pens-Capitals battle, another classic confrontation between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Those keep getting better, not stale.

This one ended 2-1 Penguins, and with Ovechkin shattering his stick over the boards on his way off the ice.

The Penguins still have that going for them, which is nice.

It’s also reassuring.​

Ovechkin had thrown everything he had at the Pens and goaltender Matt Murray, five shots on goal and 14 attempts at the net in all.

Four of those had been launched in the final 1:12 of regulation, with the Pens desperately protecting their one-goal advantage.​

Ovechkin from the top of the left circle through Kris Letang, off Murray’s shoulder.​

Ovechkin from the right circle, save Murray.​

Ovechkin from the right point, somehow it wouldn’t go.

And finally, Ovechkin, after retrieving a loose puck at the Capitals’ blueline, skating as hard and as fast as he could up the middle of the ice and into the Penguins’ end as the Pens attempted a line change with under 30 seconds to play. Ovechkin ripped one from between the circles in front of a retreating Jack Johnson. It sailed wide to the stick side.

“It was target practice where he’s just firing everything at the net,” NBCSN analyst Eddie Olczyk observed. “He’s getting some good looks.”

None of the 14 were good enough for Ovechkin to extend his goal-scoring streak to seven consecutive games or his career-high point-scoring streak to 15.

It was the first time in three meetings against the Penguins this season Ovechkin –– he leads the NHL with 29 goals through his first 35 games entering play tonight –– failed to tickle the twine.

The Penguins can still get to him.

And to the defending-champion Capitals.

No wonder Ovie’s stick never made it to the locker room.

“We got some bounces but we earned them,” Pens captain Sidney Crosby assessed afterward while continuing another tradition, the on-the-bench interview with Pierre McGuire in the immediate aftermath. “We were pretty solid all the way through.”

The Pens had also been that on Nov. 7 against the Capitals.

They lost that night, 2-1, but played well enough to make their point even thought they didn’t earn any in the standings.

There have been enough such instances this season to make an argument that the Penguins are still plenty formidable when properly engaged, invested and attending to detail.

They haven’t been that often this season, as the 1-7-2 streak from Oct. 30 through Nov. 19 betrayed.

That they’ve gone 11-4-2 since entering tonight’s game against the red Wings, the resumption of play following the Christmas break, suggests it might yet be a Happy New Year.

The Caps still bring out the best in the Penguins.

So, apparently, did waking up with a record of 7-8-4 in mid-November.

There remain some details to sort out in their game, individually and collectively, some bad habits to break and some adjustments to make.

And there will be more bumps in the road down the road.

But for now it’s safe to assume the Pens are still the Pens, especially wherever and whenever the Caps are concerned.

And vice-versa.

That rivalry has seen the eventual Stanley Cup champion emerge from a postseason meeting in each of the last three seasons.

On the list of things to look forward to with the calendar about to turn to January and the hockey season about to gain some momentum, it’s not too early to begin anticipating another such showdown.

“One more game left in the regular season,” Doc Emrick observed, referencing the looming Pens-Caps battle on March 12 at PPG Paints Arena. “And then, if the hockey gods smile some more, maybe more in the spring.”

Hope nothing happens to Ovechkin’s shipment of sticks in the interim.

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