WASHINGTON - Sidney Crosby was booed whenever he touched the puck against the Washington Capitals. A loud group of Pittsburgh Penguins supporters in a sellout crowd of 18,277 responded in kind, jeering Alex Ovechkin when the puck was on his stick.
Players and coaches from both sides can talk all they want about how Pittsburgh vs. Washington is about much more than Sid the Kid vs. Alexander the Great. The fans feel otherwise - and so far the rivalry is as lopsided as they come.
Crosby set up the go-ahead goal on a power play, Ovechkin was held without a point for the first time this season, and Pittsburgh beat Washington 2-1 Saturday night. Crosby's Penguins have won eight of nine games against Ovechkin's Capitals since they entered the league.
"Maybe from each guy's side, there's a little more motivation," Crosby said, "because there's more attention, more eyes on the game."
Well, at least someone will acknowledge that. After all, these are a couple of young forwards who both reached 200 points faster than any other active NHLers.
Part of the reason for Pittsburgh's recent success against Washington? Ovechkin - who edged Crosby for top rookie honors in 2005-06 - has no goals or assists in three of the past four games between the teams.
"I have a couple great shots today," Ovechkin said, "but just missed the net."
Asked his team's secret to success against the Russian wing, Pittsburgh's Ryan Whitney said: "I don't know if there is one. Playing him hard. Playing him tight. Not giving him enough room to wheel."
Ovechkin checked Crosby early in the third period, setting off a chain reaction of hits that nearly led to a brawl involving other players.
"That was a good hit," Crosby said. "He's a strong guy. He plays a complete game. I don't expect him to take it easy against anybody - especially me."
As would be expected, the Capitals generally harassed Crosby much of the night, and he helped Pittsburgh break a 1-1 tie after Mike Green was sent off for high-sticking the reigning NHL scoring champion and MVP.
Crosby sent a cross-ice pass to Whitney, whose slap shot beat Brent Johnson 17:59 into the second to make it 2-1. It was the 100th career point for Whitney, in his third season.
"He made a great pass. Yep. And that ended up being one of the plays that cost us," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said.
Washington went ahead 1-0 on defenceman Brian Pothier's goal 13:45 into the game, and Pittsburgh tied it nearly 4 minutes into the second period on Jordan Staal's goal.
Johnson started in place of regular goalie Olie Kolzig, who is 2-6-1 with a 4.21 goals-against average in his last nine games against Pittsburgh. Johnson said he didn't learn he'd be in the net until after the team practised Saturday.
"I played a hunch," said Hanlon, whose team has dropped four consecutive games after opening the season 3-0.
The Penguins, meanwhile, won for the second night in a row.
"I don't think we can afford to look too far ahead. We've made some pretty good steps here the past couple of games," Crosby said. "We have to build off it."
The Capitals are scoring an average of only two goals per game this season, and while they produced plenty of chances Saturday, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves.
The Capitals put the puck off a post in the first period, and Matt Pettinger had a shot dribble off the line and stop next to a post late in the second. Ovechkin tried to set up Chris Clark for a tying score on a breakaway with 1:45 left in the game, but the centre couldn't quite get his stick on the puck.
"The guys helped me out," Fleury said. "They didn't let (Ovechkin) get in front of me."
Notes: Washington F Alexander Semin missed his sixth game of the season, although his injured right ankle is healed and he's closing in on a return to the lineup, perhaps Friday against Vancouver. "Now it's a matter of getting his conditioning back. I don't think it's so much the injury any more," coach Hanlon said. ... Capitals C Boyd Gordon returned to action after missing three games with back spasms. ... Washington assigned RW Joe Motzko to AHL affiliate Hershey.