They've been supplanted by the Capitals for the time being.
Washington goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped 30 shots and made Jason Chimera's goal late in the first period stand up for a 1-0 victory at Verizon Center. The regulation win moves the Capitals into eighth place in the Eastern Conference and drops the Penguins, losers of six straight, into ninth. Both teams have 46 points, but the Capitals have a game in hand as well as three more non-shootout victories.
Vokoun picked up his second shutout of the season in his seventh straight start. His only other shutout was a 20-save effort in a 3-0 win over Florida on Oct. 18. He was pulled from his last game, a 5-2 loss at Los Angeles on Monday, after giving up four goals on 27 shots through 40 minutes.
"You look at where we are in standings, it's not very nice spot," Vokoun said. "It's a tough league; no matter who you play, any night it's tough game. We have some trouble on the road, so we've got to cash in at home."
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't tested much until the third period, when he faced nine shots, including four from Alex Ovechkin. He came up with several important saves, including one with 10 minutes left on a Karl Alzner one-timer from the slot that was set up by Ovechkin, but his 20 saves in the game weren't enough to stop the Penguins downward spiral.
Pittsburgh has scored only six goals during its six-game losing streak. Prior to sliding south, the Penguins had won four in a row and seven of their previous 11 games dating back to a 2-1 win at Verizon Center on Dec. 1. However, they are just 5-9-0 since Crosby left the lineup with a recurrence of concussion symptoms.
Crosby, who has been out since Dec. 8, joined the Penguins on this trip, which will continue in South Florida on Friday. He watched Wednesday's game from the press box and is expected to skate in Florida, but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said prior to the game that there is still no timetable for Crosby's return.
Crosby's teammates don't anticipate him riding to the rescue any time soon.
"I don't think he's anywhere close to coming back, so you can't really wait for him," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "The guys that are going to pull us out of this aren't Sid or (Kris Letang); it's the guys in this room. Obviously we'd love to have those guys in the lineup, but that can't be our attitude right now, we can't wait for those guys."
The Penguins, though, tried to remain upbeat following their latest loss. Orpik said he liked the effort, especially compared to the way the team played in a 5-1 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center. Pascal Dupuis said the mood on the bench was good and the atmosphere before the game made it feel like the Penguins were going to finally snap out of their funk.
But Vokoun had other ideas.
"You know what, we did play the right way and Vokoun played well," Dupuis said. "I think we had a lot of chances on him, a lot of chances to tie it up with two, three, four minutes left and it doesn't seem to find the back of the net right now. Today feels like one step toward the right direction. We'll get it back."
The Penguins forechecked hard and limited Washington to only 12 shots on goal through 40 minutes, but the Capitals still took a 1-0 lead into the third period thanks to Chimera's 14th goal of the season.
Chimera scored on a breakaway after Joel Ward forced Evgeni Malkin to give the puck up at the far blue line with 4:35 to play in the first period. Malkin tried to skate into the teeth of the Capitals defense, but Ward got his stick on the puck and poked it up the right wing boards. Jeff Halpern chased it down and with Zbynek Michalek bearing down on him, he found Chimera streaking down the middle of the ice and hit him with a perfect pass. Chimera did the rest, racing in on Fleury and shooting between his blocker and right pad to give the Capitals the lead.
Chimera's goal moves him within three of his career high and ties him with the likes of Rick Nash and Zach Parise, among others, this season.
"(Ward) is one of those guys who uses a very long stick and he made a great play stripping the puck," Chimera said. "Then as soon as I saw Halpy (Halpern) in front of the guy, I knew we were gone on a 2-on-1, and I don't think their guy saw me behind him. Halpy made a great pass and it was off from there. It's nice to finish those ones off when you get the chance."
The Penguins had a several chances late in the third period, but Dustin Jeffrey, who was playing for the first time since Nov. 3, hit the goal post on a sharp angle attempt off a rebound. Vokoun made five saves in the final five minutes, including two on Malkin and a pair on James Neal.
Bylsma pulled Fleury with 1:19 to play and the Penguins continued to buzz around the offensive zone, but they never got another shot on Vokoun. Halpern blocked a pair of shots, and Dupuis and Chris Kunitz misfired, as the Capitals closed out a win that both put them back in the top eight and dropped the slumping Penguins out of it.
"To climb you've got to play .700 or .800 hockey. Something like .500 is not going to be good enough," Washington's Mike Knuble said. "We have to charge our way into the playoffs and demand that we are going to be in these playoffs. The positive is we have a ton of time to be in the mix and every game will be important. It'll be fun."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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