The Penguins displayed all their offensive might in a five-goal second period, plowing the way to a 5-2 victory over the struggling Washington Capitals on Thursday at CONSOL Energy Center.
Pittsburgh (8-3-0, 16 points) has won five straight games to leap into the Eastern Conference lead, while the Capitals (2-8-1, 5 points) have dropped three in a row and five of six. Washington hadn’t lost a regulation game in Pittsburgh since February 2007.
The Penguins broke that remarkable run of success with the help of a torrid power play, which converted three times on three opportunities in the second period to transform a 1-0 deficit into a runaway. Pittsburgh has gone 7 for 19 on the advantage during its current run of victories.
Sidney Crosby extended his scoring streak to six games with a goal and two assists, giving the Penguins captain 12 points (3g, 9a) during that period. Evgeni Malkin also broke through with three points (1g, 2a) and James Neal added his team-leading seventh goal and a helper. The Penguins three most dangerous weapons each completed gorgeous passing plays for power-play goals, with the Capitals reduced to spectators on all three.
Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke also scored, as the Penguins chased Capitals starting goalie Michal Neuvirth early in the second. Pittsburgh outshot Washington 18-6 in the middle frame, helping greet backup Braden Holtby. Holtby allowed six goals to the Penguins in a loss Sunday afternoon.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots in his fifth win of the season and third in a row. A seemingly revived Alex Ovechkin scored a third-period goal and fired a game-high six shots, but Fleury was largely equal to the task.
Ovechkin assisted on Mike Ribeiro’s goal 4:12 into the game, taking advantage of Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik knocking down Fleury in a goalmouth scrum. The less-than-pretty goal epitomized a disjointed first period, with both teams struggling to string multiple passes together and turnovers rampant.
The back-and-forth flow customary to a Penguins-Capitals game returned in the second, and Malkin paid off the buildup with his third goal at 6:59. Paul Martin, filling in on the power-play point for the injured Kris Letang, fed Crosby at the right circle for a one-touch pass across to Malkin on the left side. No. 71 took a stride and gunned a dart over Neuvirth’s left shoulder to tie the game.
Dupuis gave the Penguins their first lead with 7:11 left in the second, chopping a bouncing puck through Neuvirth off the rush. Crosby and Kunitz earned assists on the play, which led first-year Capitals coach Adam Oates to pull the trigger on a goalie change.
Neuvirth allowed two goals on 11 shots, but Holtby fared no better. Kunitz got another assist, this time on the power play, as he found Neal at the bottom of the left circle. Neal stepped across the crease and dumped a backhand shot through Holtby’s legs with 3:27 left.
Neal wasn’t on the ice for the next goal just 11 seconds later, but Cooke performed a convincing impersonation when he gunned a one-timer past Holtby immediately following Brandon Sutter’s faceoff win. Crosby then capped the offensive extravaganza with a man-advantage conversion at 19:38, batting Malkin’s rebound inside the left post for his fifth goal.
Much like Sunday’s meeting between these two modern-day rivals, the Capitals played well in the third period, but all they could muster was Ovechkin’s power-play tally off a nice set-up by Ribeiro. Ovechkin also hit the post from the edge of the crease late in the game.
One early-season trend continued while another ended: the Penguins had the edge in shots (28-25) for the ninth time in 11 games but failed to score the first goal for just the second time in 2013.
The Penguins will gun for six straight wins when they start a weekend home-and-home series against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon. The puck drops at 1 p.m. from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.