Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was in the building for his team’s latest loss, wearing a jacket and tie and far from the ice. His team sure could use him in the lineup.
Washington’s Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves, including a key stop on Evgeni Malkin in the closing minutes, and Jason Chimera scored off a turnover in the first period, giving the Capitals a 1-0 victory on Wednesday night, Pittsburgh’s sixth consecutive defeat.
It was the first time this season the Penguins were shut out, but they’ve scored only a total of six goals during their current skid.
Sidelined by concussion symptoms, and more than a month removed from his most recent game, Crosby is only now ready to resume skating on his own.
”I don’t think he’s anywhere close to coming back,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”You can’t really wait for him.”
Vokoun didn’t make things easy for the short-handed Penguins, and was at his best late against Malkin.
”I was scrambling in the crease, and then I saw him. He got the puck and he actually took a great shot,” Vokoun said. ”I was fortunate enough to kind of raise my body, and it hit me in the chest. It’s a good save.”
Said Washington’s Matt Hendricks: ”He made all the good saves that he had to make. When we needed him to make that great save, he was there, as well.”
Chimera gave Washington the only offense it needed at 15:25, finishing a 3-on-1 rush right in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Capitals defenseman Joel Ward stole the puck in his end and sent it to Jeff Halpern along the right boards. Halpern centered to Chimera, who easily scored his 14th goal, second on the Capitals to Alex Ovechkin.
”When you get secondary scoring, it really helps out,” Chimera said. ”It was a great play by Halpie.”
The Capitals have won seven of eight at home.
Before Wednesday, Washington had lost two in a row, both on the road, by a combined score of 10-4.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is on its longest skid since a 10-game drought in 2006.
Crosby, who has kept a low profile and hasn’t been traveling with his teammates, joined the Penguins for this three-game trip and sat in the press box Wednesday.
He hasn’t played since Dec. 5, and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma announced before Wednesday’s game that the center is prepared to start skating. As it is, the past NHL scoring champion and MVP has played in eight games this season after being out for 11 months with a concussion that stemmed in part from a hit in the Winter Classic against Washington on New Year’s Day in 2011.
”I’ll certainly be glad to see him on the ice,” Bylsma said, adding that Crosby will speak to the media soon.
Pittsburgh forward Pascal Dupuis said about Crosby: ”You want him around; he’s the team captain.”
The Penguins also are missing injured defenseman Kris Letang (concussion symptoms), and center Jordan Staal (foot) is out four to six weeks, though the team received good news early Tuesday when forward James Neal revealed his foot – originally thought to be broken – was instead just bruised.
Two-time league MVP Ovechkin, meanwhile, might be healthy and on the ice, but he is into the second season of a scoring slump that has him on pace for another mediocre-for-him total of about 35 goals. He didn’t have a point Wednesday.
Ovechkin is playing without Washington’s two next-most-important players, both out with injuries. Center Nicklas Backstrom is on the injured list after getting elbowed in the head last week, and defenseman Mike Green has played in only 10 games all season.
There wasn’t a ton of excitement Wednesday, other than the lone goal and a fight less than 2 1/2 minutes in, between Hendricks and Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams. The Capitals managed only one shot in the opening 11 minutes, and there were a total of two power plays all evening.
The drabness was sort of fitting. This game was hardly the glamorous, all-eyes-on-this-one event that Penguins vs. Capitals – and, more to the point, Sid the Kid vs. Alex the Great – had been for quite some time.
No longer are these teams – and those star players – contending for supremacy in the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL. Halfway through the season, the Penguins entered Wednesday eighth in the 15-team East, two spots ahead of the Capitals.
Washington’s victory means both teams have 46 points, tied for eighth, although the Capitals have a game in hand.
”Everybody watches the standings,” Washington coach Dale Hunter said. ”It’s so tight that you need every win.”
NOTES: Vokoun earned his second shutout this season and the 46th of his career. … The Penguins removed LW Dustin Jeffrey from the injured list and put D Simon Despres on it because of a knee injury. … D Tomas Kundratek, just recalled from AHL Hershey, made his NHL debut for the Capitals. He was paired on the blue line with Roman Hamrlik; veterans Jeff Schultz and John Erskine were healthy scratches. ”He was a little nervous,” Hunter said, ”but he kept it simple and moved the puck and he didn’t make any mistakes.”