Ovechkin scores 2, Crosby struggles as Capitals blank Penguins
Alex Ovechkin scored goals. Sidney Crosby lost faceoffs.
Lots and lots of faceoffs.
The latest Ovi-Sid showdown was a no-contest. Ovechkin netted twice to take the NHL lead in goals, and Crosby struggled mightily in his return from his latest injury as the Washington Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
"That was more of the team that I’m used to seeing," said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, clearly relieved after a recent spate of too much finesse and too many blown leads.
Ovechkin had a tip-in goal in the first period and then scored from his customary spot in the left circle with a one-timer on a power play in the second. His 29 goals are one more than Rick Nash and Tyler Seguin.
Eric Fehr and Mike Green scored in the third, and Braden Holtby recovered from a mini-slump to get his fifth shutout of the season.
But nothing was more jarring than the sight of Crosby lining up again and again in the faceoff circle and having the puck go the opposite way time after time. He lost 15 of his first 18 faceoffs and finished 17 of 24, a 29 percent success rate that is among the worst in his 594 NHL games.
"I’m not sure what it was," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "But I know after the first period and partway through the second we were monitoring faceoffs and we weren’t doing too well as a team on draws. Usually on nights like that it’s help from your wingers on draws. It’s not always the centers."
It was Crosby’s first appearance since receiving an injection last week to treat a lower-body injury that caused him to miss one game as well as the NHL All-Star game.
Crosby didn’t seem fazed much by the faceoff struggles. He said there are nights that "for whatever reason, bounces and stuff like that" don’t go a center’s way.
"I thought we wanted to win them," he said. "It’s a matter of executing it."
The chief beneficiary was Fehr, who is getting more comfortable as a center and won 17 of 22 draws. When the teams met in Pittsburgh last month, both Crosby and Fehr were 7 for 18.
"He got me pretty good in Pittsburgh," Fehr said, "so maybe just the home-ice advantage helped. … I was confident in the circle today and felt good."
The Penguins also played their third straight without franchise stalwart Evgeni Malkin, who also has a lower-body injury. Pittsburgh has lost five of six.
Holtby had been the stabilizing force that helped the Capitals recover from a slow start to the season, but had allowed four goals in each of his last three starts. On Wednesday he was back to his reliable self, stopping 27 shots to blank the Penguins for the second time in a little over a month. Pittsburgh hasn’t scored on Washington in 120 minutes this season.
"You can’t just keep saying there’s more time left in the season. You want to fix these things as soon as they happen," Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I don’t think it’s certainly any time to panic yet, but we certainly would like to get our fingers on the problem immediately."
NOTES: Ovechkin has 43 points in 37 regular-season games vs. the Penguins. … The Capitals have earned a point in 10 consecutive home games. … Looking to shake things up because of the losing streak, Trotz played Michael Latta after sitting the young center for nine of the previous 10 games. Latta’s most noticeable contribution was a tussle with Steve Downie in a fight-filled third period. Andre Burakovsky was scratched for the first time since New Year’s Day. … Johnston said Malkin might return for next week’s Canada road trip: "If he gets on the ice (for practice) this weekend, then we would plan on probably taking him out west."