Even with Alexander Ovechkin in the lineup, the Washington Capitals have struggled after getting off to their best start in five years. They could have a hard time rebounding against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby and the Penguins (3-3-0) look to continue their dominance of Ovechkin and the Capitals (3-3-0) when the teams meet at the Verizon Center on Saturday night.
Washington allowed only two goals while winning its first three games of the season - matching its 3-0-0 start in 2002-03. The Capitals, though, have dropped three straight by a combined 15-6 score.
They'll try to snap that skid against the Penguins, who went 4-0-0 against the Capitals last season. With the season series-sweep, Pittsburgh improved to 7-1-0 against Washington since drafting Crosby first overall in 2005 - one year after Washington took Ovechkin with the top pick in the draft.
Crosby, the reigning league MVP and scoring champion, has five goals and nine assists in those eight games. He helped Pittsburgh even its record on Friday, when his shootout goal gave the Penguins a 4-3 win over Carolina.
"You've got to just trust your move and hope it works," Crosby said of his shootout goal. He also had two assists in regulation and Pittsburgh improved to 49-13-8 when Crosby has at least two points.
Petr Sykora scored twice in regulation and added a shootout goal. Sykora, who joined the Penguins in the offseason after spending last season with Edmonton, has two multigoal games this season after totaling five in 2006-07.
The Penguins will try to take advantage of the Washington's porous defense as they go for their first back-to-back wins this season.
Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig stopped just 16 shots in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday. Kolzig, who had allowed only four goals in his previous three games, is 2-6-1 with a 4.21 goals-against average in his last nine games against the Penguins.
After holding opponents without a power-play goal in 12 chances during their three-game win streak, the Capitals have given up eight man-advantage goals in 20 opportunities during their skid.
Coach Glen Hanlon said after Thursday's loss that he's not upset with the penalty-killing unit, but the offense on the power play needs work.
"The power play is another story," said Hanlon, whose team has four power-play goals in 32 opportunities. "We weren't happy. I'm going to have to make some changes."
One reason behind the Caps' struggles is the absence of forward Alexander Semin, who has played just one game this year because of an ankle injury. Semin enjoyed a breakout season in 2006-07 with 38 goals, including 17 on the power play, and 73 points to finish second in scoring to Ovechkin.
"He's not even skating yet," Hanlon said of Semin. "He's still a ways away."
Still, Ovechkin remains a strong option on offense for the Capitals - he's scored in each of his last three games, and has a point in all of Washington's games this season.
Ovechkin has three goals and six assists in eight career games against the Penguins, but the Capitals are just 1-6-1 in that span, including 1-2-1 at home.
He had one goal and two assists in Washington's lone win in that stretch, a 6-3 victory on March 8, 2006.