PITTSBURGH — In a matchup that’s been billed as Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin for the better part of the last two decades, naturally it was Evgeni Malkin who seized the spotlight.
With 1:20 to play in the third period, Malkin sniped a shot past Darcy Kuemper to compensate for a blown three-goal Penguins lead in their 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins’ first of four goals came on an odd-man chance. A Washington turnover gave Danton Heinen the puck on the home squad’s side of their blue line and he saucered a breakout pass to a streaking Ryan Poehling. The third-line center handled it from there, beating Capitals netminder Darcy Kuemper over his left shoulder to end the game’s scoreless tie.
In a season plagued by injury, Poehling’s sixth goal of the campaign was his first since Jan. 28. Just over two minutes later, another unlikely contributor rose to the occasion in Chad Ruhwedel. Held scoreless in his previous 41 games this season, Ruhwedel found himself with a wide open sheet of ice after Jason Zucker extended his stick to deflect a loose puck in the former’s direction.
Ruhwedel took his time, picked his spot and fired from the right faceoff circle and, like Poehling, roofed a shot on the Washington goalie’s glove side. The goal was Ruhwedel’s first since Apr. 23, 2022 against the Detroit Red Wings.
A more familiar face in the goal-scoring department, Jake Guentzel, got his team-leading 32nd of the season on another breakaway in the third period that was made possible by a misplay from Washington’s Trevor van Riemsdyk. Guentzel went five-hole on Kuemper to up the Penguins lead to three.
Tom Wilson got one back for the Capitals early in the third period during some four-on-four play. Evgeny Kuznetsov dangled the puck for long enough to get DeSmith off his line. Kuznetsov then maneuvered behind the net before feeding Wilson in front of the blue paint to make the final frame a bit more interesting.
Malkin provided the much-needed late-game theatrics to clinch the Penguins’ win.
— Zucker was a full go despite missing the team’s morning skate. He exited Saturday’s game briefly after colliding into the boards with Washington’s Martin Fehervary early in the third period. Zucker skated off on his own before heading down the tunnel to the dressing room. He returned midway through the third period. Zucker also limped to the dressing room during Wednesday’s 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche after blocking a shot with his right skate.
— Jarry was healthy enough to dress for Saturday’s game but did not get the start, instead backing up DeSmith. He was a game-time decision, per coach Mike Sullivan. Jarry missed Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars with a lower-body injury but participated in the team’s morning skate. Prior to the team-wide workout, Jarry got in some work with goaltending coach Andy Chiodo. He faced shots from both Chiodo and his teammates Saturday morning.
— With Jarry on the bench, the Penguins sent Dustin Tokarski back down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He last got time in net for the Penguins in a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 18. Tokarski has appeared in four games for the NHL club this season.
— Jeff Petry skated in a full capacity during the team’s morning skate but missed his fifth straight game with an upper-body injury. Petry’s hopeful he’ll be able to return soon for the Penguins’ depleted defensive corps, which is still operating without injured defensemen Jan Rutta, Marcus Pettersson and Dmitry Kulikov.
— Midway through the second period, coach Mike Sullivan shuffled up his middle six, dropping Rickard Rakell to the third line while bumping Mikael Granlund up to the second unit.
36 — DeSmith tied a career-high for NHL games in a season by skating in his 36th contest this campaign. He also set a new watermark for starts, registering his 31st of the season. His previous highs for both statistics came in the 2018-19 campaign, when DeSmith started 30 games and played in six others for the Penguins.
The Penguins have a scheduled off day Sunday before returning to UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry for practice on Monday. Then it’s off to Detroit, where they’ll square off with the Red Wings in the Motor City on Tuesday night.