By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins always enjoy a win over Alex Ovechkin and the rival Washington Capitals.
But two wins in less than a week, and the manner in which captain Sidney Crosby and the Penguins picked up those victories makes it even sweeter.
Crosby and the power play paved the way for a second-period explosion as the Penguins scored five goals during the onslaught, including three with the man advantage, defeating the Capitals for the second time in five days, 5-2, Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
“I think right now we’re confident in the way we’re playing,” Crosby said. “We believe in the way we play and know that at the end of the game, we’re hopefully going to get the result we want.”
That certainly was the case on Thursday against the Capitals, and it’s been that way the past five games as the Penguins won for the fifth straight time, the longest active streak in the league. Pittsburgh also defeated Washington at home in regulation for the first time in more than five years.
Crosby scored his fifth of the season on the power play and added two assists, tallying at least a point in his sixth straight game for the longest point streak since a career-best 25-game tear prior to suffering a concussion in 2010.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Crosby, who played his first home game against the Capitals since the 2011 Winter Classic. “Sometimes you get the results and sometimes you don’t, so it’s nice to get rewarded.”
Evgeni Malkin and James Neal were rewarded with power-play goals while Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke also found the back of the net for the Penguins. Chris Kunitz, who scored four goals against the Capitals on Sunday, notched two assists and now has a four-game point streak.
Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has allowed just four goals in his last three starts, made 23 saves for his fifth win of the season and third straight.
“You know everything is clicking and everybody is feeling good about their game,” Dupuis said. “It’s something you want every night, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but you take it when it comes.”
It was the Pens’ second straight blowout win at home after they struggled and were outscored, 9-3, during losses at the Consol Energy Center against Toronto and the New York Islanders.
“We played terrible and it was a big eye-opener for us right away,” Neal said. “We’re glad it happened because ever since then our mindset has changed.”
Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro scored for the Capitals, who lost their third straight and fifth in six games. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth made nine saves on 11 shots, but was surprisingly pulled after Dupuis’ goal made it 2-1.
Braden Holtby, who allowed six goals during the Penguins’ victory on Sunday, stopped 14 of 17 shots faced. The Capitals, who have the fewest points in the league, return home Saturday against Florida before playing the next three on the road.
Ovechkin, Washington’s slumping superstar with just two goals and seven points in 11 games, tallied a goal and an assist, but couldn’t help the Capitals’ do much else to match the Penguins’ firepower.
The Penguins, on the other hand, appear to have sorted out their power-play issues, notching three against the Capitals on Thursday — the most they have scored all season — and six in their last three games. This after the Penguins, who have the league’s second-best total at 38 goals in 11 games went on a one-for-18 stretch over the previous five games.
“It was probably the best couple power plays of the year in that period,” Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We moved the puck really well, we won faceoffs, and we were dangerous.”
The Penguins certainly were dangerous in the second period. But it was the Caps who drew first blood 4:12 into the contest, marking just the second time in 11 games the Penguins allowed the opening goal.
An inadvertent stick dislodged Fleury’s mask during a shot from the point from Capitals’ defenseman Tomas Kundratek, distracting the Penguins’ goaltender and allowing Ribeiro to give the Capitals the early lead.
“It’s been awhile since we had to deal with getting behind by a goal,” Bylsma said. “I thought we played real patient and came out strong in the second period.”
Indeed they did. Pittsburgh tied it 10 seconds into a second-period power play on Malkin’s third goal of the season.
Malkin took a cross-ice feed at the top of the circle from Crosby and skated toward the net before dropping to one knee, unleashing a sharp wrist shot over Neuvirth’s shoulder.
Dupuis gave the Penguins the lead later in the period, taking a deft, no-look backhand feed from Crosby before squeezing a shot between Neuvirth’s pads for his fourth of the year.
That brought out Holtby, but it didn’t make much of a difference.
Neal made it 3-1 with a power-play goal and Cooke scored 11 seconds later, one-timing Brandon Sutter’s faceoff win past a seemingly unsuspecting Holtby.
Crosby ended the second-period onslaught, scoring on the power play with 21 seconds left in the period when the Penguins’ captain unbelievably tapped in Malkin’s initial shot from mid-air.
“That’s just normal for Sid,” Neal said. “His hand-eye is crazy. You see it in practice every day with him batting pucks out of the air, so it definitely doesn’t surprise me.”
Ovechkin tried to spark his team in the third, but his cross-check on Pens’ defenseman Robert Bortuzzo earned the two coincidental minor penalties.
Ovechkin later scored a power-play goal, beating Fleury on the short side, but the Penguins’ goaltender denied the Capitals’ superstar with a blocker save on a partial breakaway, preventing Washington from drawing any closer.
“It was a good win,” Crosby said. “I still think we can improve on things, but we’ve done a pretty good job of being consistent and limiting our mistakes for the most part.”
NOTES: Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is considered day-to-day after leaving the morning skate and missing the game with a lower body injury…The Penguins traded defenseman Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim Wednesday for a fifth-round draft pick and recalled Pittsburgh native Dylan Reese.