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Caps blank Pens, 1-0

by Alan Robinson /
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby's return is uncertain, Evgeni Malkin won't be back until next season. Alex Ovechkin, the one big star healthy, made certain the latest Capitals-Penguins matchup had the usual result.

A Capitals' victory.

Ovechkin blew a slap shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on a power play late in the second period and the Washington Capitals took advantage of Pittsburgh's injury-driven offensive struggles to beat the Penguins 1-0 at the Consol Energy Center on Monday night.

"That is what he does, and this is what he wasn't doing in the first 45-50 games," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin, who scored his third goal in four games. "He wasn't getting his shot off. I didn't even see it (the goal) in the replay at all. He has been playing like that for the last two weeks and being a real leader."

Michal Neuvirth made 39 saves-- turning aside a Jordan Staal shorthanded breakaway seconds before Ovechkin scored his 24th goal -- to help Washington improve to 10-0-2 in its last 12 games against Pittsburgh. The Penguins may have beaten Washington in a memorable seven-game playoff series two years ago, but the Capitals have won nearly every game since.

Especially in Pittsburgh, no matter the venue. The Capitals have won seven in a row in the Steel City, the last three in different venues, or one fewer than the eight in a row New Jersey won there from 2002-05.

The Capitals beat Pittsburgh 6-3 on April 6 in the now-shuttered Civic Arena in April and 3-1 in the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on Jan. 1. They exploited Pittsburgh's offensive inefficiency to win Monday in their first game at the Pens' new facility.

Ovechkin couldn't convert on a breakaway created by Nicklas Backstrom's up-ice pass about nine minutes in, but he didn't miss when he got his next good scoring opportunity.

With Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale off for tripping, Marcus Johansson made a drop pass from the right point to Ovechkin, who was by himself above the right circle. Ovechkin powered his shot past Fleury at 16:38 of the second, and no other goal was needed. Fleury was superb again for Pittsburgh yet got no support while making 23 saves.
"Marc gave me a really good pass and I had lots of time to see what's going on and I just fired," Ovechkin said. "When you score on the power play, it gives you breathing room, and I thought we in the second period we still were generating pressure. In the third period, we played defensively."
Washington had converted only four times in its 33 power plays over its previous 10 games.
The Capitals won three times in the four-game season series, losing only a 3-2 decision on Dec. 23 on home ice. The Capitals also won 3-0 on Feb. 6 at home; the Penguins scored only one goal in their final three games against Washington. Neuvirth shut them out in each of his last two starts against them.

Of course, it's not just Washington that is throttling what normally is a star-driven, high-production Penguins offense. The Penguins have been limited to three goals or fewer in each of their last 10 games, and to two or fewer in five of those.

If the Penguins ever wondered what it might be like playing without the injured Crosby (concussion) and Malkin (knee) at the same time, now they know.

"When get guys down and guys hurt, our offense hasn't been able to score many goals," forward Max Talbot said.

Pittsburgh hopes newly acquired forward James Neal, a 21-goal scorer with Dallas, will help address that lack of goal scoring. Despite not knowing whether Crosby can return this season, Penguins general manager Ray Shero dealt defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Stars on Monday for the 23-year-old Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

"Hopefully something good came out of something bad," Shero said.

Shero was referring to the Penguins being able to pull off the deal because of the salary cap room created when Malkin went down with a season-ending knee injury Feb. 4.

For the Penguins, not much good came out of what is becoming a bad matchup for them against Washington.

Two teams that play one another just enough to create an overload of animosity played a feisty-as-usual game that featured a couple of shoving matches and a fight between Pittsburgh's Ryan Craig and Washington's Matt Bradley

Neuvirth was especially strong, making several strong saves and rarely giving the Penguins any rebound attempts.
"We created a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities, but the goalie did a good job of keeping us from the second rebounds," said Staal, who played despite being struck in the face by a shot Sunday in Chicago. "A special teams battle is a big one and we lost that one."

Ovechkin is good against the Penguins regardless of whether Crosby and Malkin are playing or not, with 12 goals and nine assists in 15 games in Pittsburgh.

Washington won its third in seven games while Pittsburgh dropped its sixth in eight games. The Penguins are 10-8-2 without Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5. They are 6-6-1 when both Crosby and Malkin are out.

"They lost two keys to the game in Malkin and Crosby, but they still have a very good team," Ovechkin said. "They had chances to score, but Neuvirth was unbelievable."
The Capitals, 2-1 winners in Buffalo on Sunday, finished up a 3-2 road trip. They had not shut out the Penguins in 79 games before doing so in each of their last two.
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