The Pittsburgh Penguins have been able to win despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, who hasn't played since early January due to a concussion. What they haven't been able to do without him is beat the Washington Capitals.
The Caps made it 3-for-3 against the Penguins since Crosby's injury with a 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh on Thursday. Not that they hadn't been playing well against their least-favorite team even with Crosby in the lineup -- the Capitals now are 11-0-2 in their last 13 meetings with the Pens and went 160:07 without allowing a goal until James Neal scored 2:20 into Thursday's game. The last time Washington didn't get at least a point out of a game with the Penguins was March 9, 2008, when the Pens won 4-2 at Washington.
The Penguins' struggles have been even more acute in Pittsburgh, where the Caps have won their last eight games in three facilities -- Mellon Arena, Heinz Field and the Consol Energy Center.
Slowing down Ovi … a little -- Though he scored a goal Thursday, the Penguins have done a much better job in the past year or so in shutting down Alex Ovechkin. Ovi has just 2 goals in his last five games against Pittsburgh after scoring 7 goals in four games in 2009-10. The goal was Ovechkin's 19th in 25 regular-season games against the Penguins. As usually happens, Nicklas Backstrom had a hand in the goal -- Backstrom has 22 assists in 17 games against the Penguins since entering the NHL in 2007.
Despite missing four of their 25 meetings since the two entered the NHL in 2005, Crosby still has the points lead with 35, two more than Ovi -- Ovechkin's 19 goals are five more than Crosby's total, but Crosby has 22 assists to Ovi's 14.
Crosby has gotten the OK to take contact in practice, and it's likely he'll be on the ice when the teams get together in Washington on Dec. 1. That's good news for the Penguins: Thursday's win gives the Caps 13 wins to 12 for the Penguins in the Ovi-Sid era, but with both players in the lineup, the Penguins have 12 wins to nine for the Caps.
Happy holiday -- The St. Louis Blues probably want to put in their request now for a Columbus Day home game in 2012-13.
The Blues outshot Calgary 35-17 and beat the Flames 5-2 Monday, their second straight dominating performance in a Columbus Day matinee at Scottrade Center. One year ago, they routed Anaheim 5-1 in a game that saw them outshoot the Ducks 53-14.
St. Louis outshot its opponents by more than 2-to-1 in each of its first two games, though the Blues couldn't turn a 33-16 margin against Nashville into a victory -- the Predators spoiled things at Scottrade Center with a 4-2 win.
Slow starters -- One reason the Vancouver Canucks won the Presidents' Trophy last season was their ability to get off to fast starts. The Canucks scored the game's first goal 49 times in 82 games last season, fourth in the NHL, and won a League-leading 41 games when getting the jump on the opposition.
But it's a new season, and the Canucks are off to a slow start -- especially when it comes to scoring first.
Vancouver is just 1-2-1 in its first four games, including Thursday's 2-0 loss at Detroit. The Canucks have yet to score first in the four games; last season, they had only one stretch of four or more games in which they failed to get the first goal.
Five is not enough -- The Ottawa Senators did something last Saturday that's nearly impossible -- they scored five goals in a period and lost.
Of course, it's easier to do when you spot the other team a 4-0 lead after two periods, as the Senators did at Toronto. Ottawa scored five times in the third period but still lost 6-5.
The previous 22 teams to score five goals in a period had won the game. The last to lose? That would be Ottawa, which scored five in the third period against Nashville on Oct. 22, 2009 -- and lost 6-5 in overtime.
New season -- The 2011-12 season is just entering its second week, and we've already seen a number of unusual happenings:
* Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick lost his first shootout of the season when the New Jersey Devils beat the Kings 2-1 on Thursday. Quick was 10-0 in the tiebreaker last season.
* Pittsburgh forward James Neal has scored four times in Pittsburgh's first five games. Neal managed just one goal in 20 games after the Penguins acquired him from the Dallas Stars in February.
* Anaheim held Buffalo without a shot in the third period of their opening game (the Sabres still won 4-1). In all of 2010-11, there was only one period last season (Los Angeles vs. Vancouver, March 31) in which a team did not manage a shot on goal.
* Minnesota (21) and the Islanders (14) combined for just 35 shots in the Isles' 2-1 win Monday. That's fewer shots than in any game last season.
* In their first three games, the Islanders have scored six goals in the first period; they managed just 58 in the first period all last season.
* Detroit (three games) and Toronto (two) have not allowed a goal in the first or second periods.
* Three of the NHL's four worst defenses from last season have -- at least for the moment -- plugged some leaks. The Islanders (258 GA, 27th) have allowed just four goals in three games; Edmonton (260, 28th) has surrendered one non-shootout goal in each of its first two games, and Colorado (287, 30th) has given up just six goals (one into an empty net) in four games.