PITTSBURGH – Casey DeSmith felt the puck at his feet, looked down to confirm it was indeed the case then exhaled as his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates poured over the bench in the middle of an empty arena to congratulate their backup goaltender, the one hardly playing like a backup.
Starting in place of a shaky Tristan Jarry, DeSmith turned aside 20 shots he faced in regulation and overtime then stuffed Washington's T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin in the shootout as the Penguins picked up their first win of the season with a 4-3 victory on Sunday.
Given the start after Jarry allowed nine goals on 31 shots while getting swept in Philadelphia last week, DeSmith picked up his first victory since March 14, 2019, when he denied Ovechkin after Jake Guentzel put Pittsburgh up in the fourth round of the shootout.
DeSmith figured Ovechkin would try to fire one past him rather than deke his way to the net. DeSmith stayed upright as Ovechkin closed in and felt the familiar smack of rubber hitting him and not the net.
“I saw the puck at my feet and I was ecstatic,” DeSmith said.
Evan Rodrigues, Colton Sceviour and Marcus Pettersson all scored their first goals of the season for Pittsburgh, which rallied twice from one-goal deficits and clamped down on the Capitals for the final 45 minutes after Washington did whatever it wanted while taking a 2-1 lead in the first.
“I thought our guys played hard in the second and third against a really good team,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We need to have that sort of effort, but also playing with a sense of purpose and I thought we did that in the second and the third.”
Ovechkin scored his 707th career goal in the first period to move within one of Hall of Famer Mike Gartner for seventh on the all-time list. Backstrom and Nic Dowd also scored for Washington, which was looking to begin the season 3-0 for the first time since 2011-12.
Samsonov finished with 24 saves and turned aside Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin in the shootout, but let Guentzel's wrister slip between his legs and the Penguins poured over the bench after a successful return to PPG Paints Arena after 316 days away.
“It’s the third game, you know, after months of time off without hockey,” Ovechkin said. "It’s the third game and we played against a really good team. ... Have to kind of wake up and know exactly what you have to do.”
WHO'S NO. 1?
Pittsburgh came in reeling after opening the truncated season by getting drilled by the Flyers. Jarry, elevated to the team's No. 1 goaltender following the offseason trade of two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray, lost the opener and was pulled in the second game after allowing three goals on six shots. While Sullivan remains confident Jarry will be fine, he turned to DeSmith to help get Pittsburgh going.
Sullivan called starting DeSmith “the best decision” for the group. Jarry will spend some time working with goaltending coach Mke Buckley in an attempt to regain the form that made him a surprise All-Star last season.
Two teams featuring some of the best playmakers in the league struggled with the man advantage. Washington went 1 for 4 on the power play, a tap-in goal by Backstrom in the second that gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead. The Penguins went 0 for 5.
Penguins F Kasperi Kapanen, acquired in a trade with Toronto in August, is out of COVID-19 protocol and could make his debut this week. Kapanen, who is slated to play on the line with Crosby and Jake Guentzel, had visa issues in his native Finland that forced him to miss training camp before spending time in quarantine upon his arrival in the U.S.
BLUE LINE SHUFFLE
Pittsburgh defenseman Mike Matheson, brought over in a trade that sent popular forward Patric Hornqvist to Florida, did not play and is out “longer term” with an upper-body injury. Cody Ceci, who signed as a free agent in October, was a healthy scratch for a second straight game.
The teams finish their early two-game set on Tuesday. Their next games after that are on Feb. 14 and Feb. 16 in Pittsburgh.
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