Well, that game certainly took a turn.
Last night’s showdown between the Penguins and Capitals already felt like a big deal going in. The two teams are very good, and Washington’s nine-game win streak had moved them past Pittsburgh and into first place overall. It was also a matchup between longtime rivals, not to mention a rematch of last year’s division final. What more could you want?
Well, how about 15 goals?
After a fairly ordinary first period that saw the Caps take a 2–0 lead into intermission, the two teams held down the turbo buttons for pretty much the entire second period, erupting for nine goals. They added three more in the third to send the game to overtime, where Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary ended it just 34 seconds in.
That’s a lot to take in. So let’s break it down, with a look at 10 of the more interesting facts from an interesting game.
1. The Capitals pulled off a rare feat in recent NHL history
Washington became just the third team in the last two decades to score seven goals and lose.
That actually used to be a relatively common occurrence. During the high-flying ’80s, it happened 49 times, including three games in which the losing team scored nine times. (No NHL team has ever reached the 10-goal mark and still taken the loss.)
Seven-goal losses continued to be reasonably common through the early ’90s, right up until the arrival of the Dead Puck Era, when a 10–8 loss by the Penguins to the Sharks in 1996 marked the last time it would happen for well over a decade.
That streak came to an end in 2010, when Philadelphia dropped an 8–7 decision to Tampa Bay. And those same Flyers were back at it a year later, losing a memorable 9–8 shootout to the Jets.
(You may remember that game as the one that inspired Ilya Bryzgalov’s immortal “I am lost in the woods” soliloquy.)
2. Matt Murray had a weird night
The good news is that Murray picked up the win. The bad news is that he gave up seven goals while doing it.
That makes him the first goaltender to give up that many in a win since Ondrej Pavelec, who surrendered seven in that Jets win over the Flyers. But Pavelec at least got a short break in that game, making way for Chris Mason to come in and give up one of the Flyer goals.
To find the last goaltender who played an entire game and won despite giving up seven goals, you have to go all the way back to 1994 and a game involving, who else, the Flyers. On Feb. 21, they beat the Canadiens 8–7 behind the goaltending of Dominic Roussel.
The funny thing about that game is that Roussel almost didn’t make it to the end, because he nearly got ejected. After the Flyers’ sixth goal, Montreal starter Patrick Roy decided to take a swing at Eric Lindros. That turned out to be a very bad idea, especially for Roy’s unfortunate teammate, Eric Desjardins. Roussel skated the length of the ice to even the odds, but for one of the only times in Roy’s career, cooler heads prevailed and the goalie fight didn’t happen.
3. The game represented a slight change in fortune for the red-hot Capitals
Coming into the game, Washington had allowed just three goals in their last six games, a stretch that included four shutouts. The Penguins scored that many in less than four minutes. Just during the second period. Twice.
In fact, you’d have to go back to an early December losing streak to find any one stretch in which the Capitals gave up more than eight goals over three consecutive games.
4. Almost all of the Penguins offense came at even strength.
The other amazing Capitals stat heading into last night was their nearly 300-minute streak of not allowing a goal at 5-on-5. They stretched that until Evgeni Malkin‘s goal opened the floodgates six minutes into the second.
Still, you might see a team put up eight goals and assume they did a lot of the damage on the power play. Not this time. While the Penguins can boast a perfect night with the man advantage, that’s not saying much – they scored on what would end up being their only opportunity.
5. It was the highest-scoring overtime game in over 24 years
According to hockey-reference.com’s Game Finder tool, last night’s 15 goals were the most scored in an overtime game since Dec. 12, 1992. On that night, the Nordiques went into San Jose and escaped with a win over the Sharks despite allowing five third-period goals to tie the game. Ron Hextall outdueled Brian Hayward for the win.
In case you’re wondering, there have been games that ended regulation tied 7–7 and stayed that way. More than a few, in fact – it’s happened 23 times in NHL history. The most recent involved the Kings, who did it twice in 1995 – once in April against the Jets, and again in December against the Canucks.
There have also been nine games in NHL history that ended with an 8–8 tie, most recently in 1992. There’s never been a 9-9 tie (and, unless something happens to the shootout, never will be).
A game with 15 goals featured arguably the greatest goal-scorer of all-time… and he didn’t score
A week after passing Rocket Richard on the all-time list and notching his thousandth point, Alex Ovechkin couldn’t find the net in a game where just about everyone else did. He finished with two assists and just three shots on goal, and was a -4 on the night. He did have a game-leading nine hits, though.
7. Only one player managed a zeroed-out stat line on the night
Of the 36 skaters in the game, only 11 were held pointless, matching the number who had multi-point nights.
Of those 11 players who were held off the board, only one managed to also put up a zero in the +/- column. That would be Tom Wilson, who’ll go down in history as the only player with a 0-0-0-0 stat line on the evening.
He did manage to get on the board with two penalty minutes – he was the guy who gave the Penguins their only power play of the night.
8. If you’re an old-time Caps fan, this might feel vaguely familiar
An 8–7 loss. To the Penguins. In which their big, skilled center scored a hat trick. Hmmm… oh, right.
9. Other than the two Capitals games, the Penguins have had one other win in which they gave up seven goals. It came in the playoffs.
Who says the post-season is all about defence? Well, coaches do. Every modern-day NHL coach says that. Those guys ruin everything.
But back in the ’80s, the game didn’t quite work that way. And on Apr. 25, 1989, when the Penguins hosted (who else) the Flyers in game five of the Patrick Division final, the two teams decided to just shoot the lights out.
The Flyers put seven pucks past Tom Barasso, and still lost by a field goal. Despite an injured neck that had left his ability to suit up in question, Mario Lemieux tied NHL playoff records with five goals and eight points, and the Penguins took home a 10–7 win.
The Flyers goalie that night was our old pal Hextall. Did he eventually snap and start chasing Penguins players around the ice? You know he did.
10. Last night’s game may end up deciding the Jennings race
The Jennings is a team award that goes to the goaltenders on the team that gives up the fewest goals on the season. (Well, not quite — the NHL also factors in shootout wins and losses into the calculation, for reasons nobody understands.)
The Capitals haven’t won it since 1984, when the superstar tandem of Pat Riggins and Al Jensen took it home. But they were looking good this year; heading into last night’s action, they had a six-goal lead over the Wild for the league lead in fewest goals allowed, and had the added advantage of having played more games.
So much for that. The Wild now hold a two-goal edge, and the Blue Jackets are back in the mix as well, just one back of the Caps.
As for the Penguins, they came into the game ranked a vaguely respectable 17th in the league in goals allowed. They’re now 24th.
Bonus fact: These two teams are going to meet in the playoffs
OK, I guess that’s not actually a “fact,” but still… we can make this happen, right? The two teams don’t face each other again during the regular season, but surely we can all agree to just rig the playoff seedings to make sure they cross paths again.
Come on, who’s with me? Fans of the other 28 teams?
Penguins fans, you’re in, right?
Capitals fan, you too?
Oh, right. Still, 29 out of 30 isn’t bad. Motion carried. See you in the first round, guys. Try to save a few goals for then.