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Crosby, Penguins shut down Capitals

by Adam Vingan

WASHINGTON -- The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their dominance of the Washington Capitals in the teams' first-ever meeting as Metropolitan Division rivals.

Sidney Crosby scored a goal and assisted on another, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 18 saves for his 25th career shutout to lead the Penguins to a 4-0 victory against the Capitals on Wednesday at Verizon Center.

Pittsburgh's victory was its fifth in a row against Washington dating to the 2011-12 season; the Penguins have outscored the Capitals 21-9 over that span.

Paul Martin gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 6:38 of the first period. After the Capitals were called for icing, Crosby bested Brooks Laich on the ensuing faceoff. As the puck caromed off the half-wall, Crosby passed it back to Martin, whose floating wrist shot handcuffed a screened Braden Holtby (36 saves), fluttering over the Capitals goaltender's left shoulder into the corner of the net.

The Penguins doubled their lead a little more than five minutes later when their deft puck movement in the neutral zone allowed Beau Bennett to split the Capitals defense and beat Holtby to the blocker side with a clean wrist shot. Bennett's goal capped off a dominant first period in which the Penguins dictated the flow -- they had a 17-6 shot advantage, including a 15-2 margin at even strength -- and shut down the Capitals' potent power play, which was on the ice for a total of 5:09.

Alex Ovechkin was held to a season-low two shots on goal.

"I don't know if we expect to hop out to that kind of shot advantage, but certainly the pace and how we played was excellent," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We got some real good scoring opportunities. We get the faceoff goal that gets us out in front. But equally as important, they had opportunities on the power play there, especially in the first half of the game, and that was a big part of the game."

The game took on a more frenetic pace in the early stages of the second period, particularly during a Pittsburgh power play that saw Washington get the better scoring chances during a spirited penalty kill. Yet it was on a power play in the period's waning moments that the Penguins extended their lead to 3-0, once again on an impressive passing display.

In rapid succession, the puck moved from Evgeni Malkin at the half-wall to Chris Kunitz in the slot to James Neal along the goal line before Crosby one-timed Neal's pass past Holtby from the lower left circle for his 11th goal of the season.

"I saw [Malkin] had the puck and I think [Neal] went down low, [and Kunitz] was kind of [in the] middle there," Crosby said. "I just tried to kind of find the open ice and saw the puck coming quick from Nealer on the goal line. There was a little room there on the blocker side, and I tried to get it away."

The Penguins extended their lead to 4-0 at 7:16 of the third period when Neal received a pass from Martin and carved through the offensive zone before firing a snap shot past Holtby.

The loss was the Capitals' first at home since Oct. 16, snapping a six-game winning streak at Verizon Center. After jumping over the Penguins for first place in the division Sunday, the Capitals are now three points back of their front-running rivals.

"It's disappointing. Extremely disappointing," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We had a chance to be in first place and to beat the team we are battling against. That would have been really nice. But we get another crack at them a little further down the road."

The game Wednesday marked the first time the teams met as division foes since they played in March 1993 as members of the Patrick Division.

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