Chasing down the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division seems unlikely for the Washington Capitals at this point. Finding a way to beat them before the postseason might be a more pressing concern.
The Eastern Conference-leading Penguins have won five straight over the second-place Capitals heading into Wednesday night's game in Pittsburgh and hold a comfortable 16-point lead in the division standings.
In a matchup that includes two of the world's best players, Sidney Crosby has also had the individual edge over Alex Ovechkin with 10 points in four games dating to the start of last season. Ovechkin has four points in that same span. Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin also has 10 points in his last four against the Capitals dating to 2011-12.
The Penguins (33-12-2) padded their division lead Saturday with a 2-1 win at Calgary, their fourth victory in five games. Chris Kunitz scored his 24th goal of the season to get within one of Crosby's team lead.
A night after blowing a 2-0 lead entering the third period in a 4-3 overtime loss at Edmonton, the Penguins made the same scenario hold up against the Flames.
"After a disappointing third period for us last night, for us it was a much better team game," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We got the 2-0 lead, same situation we were in last night, and that's something we want to get better at, playing with the lead."
Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves to bounce back from a two-game stretch in which he had allowed nine goals, though he's won four straight starts.
"It was just nice to have a close, low-scoring game," said Fleury, who has a 1.29 goals-against average in his last seven starts against Washington. "It felt nice. The last few games were a little crazy so it's definitely nice and it was a good battle."
Crosby, the league's point leader with 67, went without one for the first time in seven games.
Ovechkin, the NHL's leading goal scorer with 33, scored in the second period of Tuesday's 2-1 home shootout loss to San Jose.
"It was a good test for us," Ovechkin said. "A good team. They've been together for a long time. I think we had good chances to win the game in regular time, in the third period, but we got the point."
The Capitals (22-16-8) have struggled on offense while dropping six of their last eight, including four games in which they managed only one goal.
"We know we aren't going to score on every shift out there, but we are doing the right thing and hopefully it will bounce with us next game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "It will come if we just keep working. I think it will come."
Rookie Philipp Grubauer has been in goal for consecutive 2-1 shootout losses, stopping 57 of 59 shots while his teammates - Eric Fehr, Ovechkin and Backstrom - have missed all six shootout attempts.
Pittsburgh is one of two teams to shut out the Capitals this season - 4-0 on Nov. 20 in Washington. Fleury was called on for 18 saves while Crosby had a goal and an assist.
Neal, who hasn't been ruled out, has 14 points in his last eight games and eight in his last five against the Capitals.