Penguins, Capitals deliver early classic
Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins used their first game this season against the Washington Capitals to set some high expectations for the Winter Classic.
Crosby extended his points streak to 23 games with a goal and an assist, and Pascal Dupuis scored the decisive goal in the seventh round of a shootout to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory Thursday night.
''You almost could have wished this was the outdoor game,'' Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, ''but it's a prelude for sure.''
The preview of the New Year's Day matchup between the teams at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field will be hard to top. But Crosby thinks Thursday's game is a perfect selling point.
''People outside of hockey fans, I think they learned a little more about each team and the guys on each team,'' he said. ''It might be a little more intense because of that, but I think as far as both teams are concerned, it's probably pretty high as it is.''
Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer with 60 points on 29 goals and 31 assists in 36 games, has the league's longest points streak since 1992-93 when Quebec's Mats Sundin had a 30-game run.
''I try not to think about it, just go out there and do the same thing every night and hope that I capitalize and create things,'' Crosby said. ''You've still got to evaluate your game. It's not always based on points.''
Chris Kunitz also scored to help the Penguins win their third straight and 15th in 17 games.
Dupuis converted a wrister from the inside edge of the right circle, ending the shootout after Marc-Andre Fleury used his skate to block Mike Green's drive at the right post for his sixth straight save.
''Without (Fleury) and his play it's a much different outcome,'' Crosby said. ''At the start, at the end, all the way through - he was a big part of us finding a way to win tonight.''
Green and Mike Knuble scored in regulation for the Capitals. The Capitals had won two straight following an eight-game losing streak.
While most of the Capitals felt like they had put their frustrating skid behind them with a third consecutive solid effort, the hard-earned point didn't satisfy Brooks Laich.
''I'm sick of talking about intentions and trying to measure ourselves and trying to play well,'' Laich said. ''We got to win hockey games. That's the bottom line: Win hockey games.''
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau chose to accentuate the positives.
''They had passion. We played, arguably right now ... the best team in the league and I thought we played them to a standstill,'' he said.
Washington nearly prevailed in sudden death. With 2:35 left in overtime, Green sent Fleury sprawling with a shot at the right post. Fleury reached across the goal line to make the save and the play withstood a brief video review because there was no clear-cut evidence a goal had been scored.
Boudreau seemed sure the puck crossed the line.
''Save for the fact that you can't see through leather, we probably would have won the game,'' Boudreau said.
It was the first of four meetings between the two teams. The Capitals went 4-0 against Pittsburgh last season.
Washington's Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal for the eighth straight game. Ovechkin, who had the Capitals' lone goal in the shootout, has two goals in his last 19 games.
Crosby wasted little time in adding to his career-best streak, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead 3:21 into the game on their first shot.
Shortly after an interference penalty to Evgeni Malkin expired, Kris Letang uncorked a shot from the right point that Crosby deflected past Michal Neuvirth from the right post.
Just 1:23 into the second period, Pittsburgh was awarded a penalty shot when Green tripped Malkin from behind on a breakaway. But a sliding Neuvirth used his glove hand to swat away Malkin's right-side attempt.
Washington wasted 1:51 of a 5-on-3 advantage later in the period, but Green scored a power-play goal at 13:43 of the second period - a second after the first penalty, a cross-checking minor to Michael Rupp, expired. The Capitals patiently collapsed the passing perimeter around the Pittsburgh defensive triangle before Green played give-and-go with Alexander Semin, sweeping a shot from between the circles by Fleury.
Kunitz put Pittsburgh ahead 2-1 17 seconds into the third period, scoring a backhander off a pass from a triple-teamed Crosby.
The Capitals tied it at 2 with 5:29 left on Knuble's short-handed goal. He got ahead of Alex Goligoski and converted Laich's left-wing feed.
NOTES: Washington D Tom Poti left after taking a stick to the head in the first period. ... A female off-ice official stationed in the penalty box opposite the Penguins bench was struck in the head midway through the first period when Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek sent the puck out of play for a delay-of-game penalty. She was helped across the ice by a trainer and Knuble and led through the tunnel next to the Washington bench, clutching a towel to her forehead. She needed a dozen stitches to close a wound on her left temple, according to other members of the off-ice crew. ... Skaters donned their teams' respective commemorative ski caps promoting the Winter Classic during the pregame warmup. Only Crosby and Pittsburgh RW Matt Cooke opted to don helmets. ... C Matt Hendricks (illness) and RW Matt Bradley (broken finger) were scratched by the Capitals. ... The Penguins recalled G John Curry from AHL Scranton/Wilkes Barre to replace G Brent Johnson (groin). Pittsburgh also scratched RW Arron Asham (lower body). ... Before Thursday, Washington was the only Eastern Conference team the Penguins had not played.