WASHINGTON — Even Sidney Crosby acknowledged his goal — and the lickety-split series of passes that led up to it — was "fun" and "one of the nicer ones."
Crosby delivered that highlight-reel goal and an assist to get the better of a quiet Alex Ovechkin in the past league MVPs' first matchup as division rivals, and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended a three-game road losing streak by beating the Washington Capitals 4-0 on Wednesday night.
Crosby's one-timer from a tough angle while leaning on his left knee capped quite a sequence of touches from Evgeni Malkin at the point to Chris Kunitz in the slot to James Neal slightly behind the net to Crosby in the left circle. When the puck flew past goalie Braden Holtby with 29 seconds left in the third period to make it 3-0, Crosby raised his fists, threw his head back and let out a yell.
"It's tough to get those," Crosby said. "Teams know where everybody is on the ice. To get that many quick passes in — you enjoy those, because you don't see those too often. It's right up there."
Even Holtby sounded impressed afterward.
"For Crosby to one-time that one off his off-wing, put it where he did — guys like that are going to score goals," Holtby said, pursing his lips and shaking his head.
With Pittsburgh "smothering" Washington, as Penguins coach Dan Bylsma put it, Marc-Andre Fleury needed to make only 18 saves for his second shutout this season and 25th in the NHL.
"It was not our day at all — on power play, PK, 5-on-5," said Ovechkin, who hit a post early but otherwise was mostly held in check. "That kind of games happen."
Pittsburgh wound up with 40 shots. Paul Martin, off a pass from Crosby, and Beau Bennett, with an assist from Malkin, scored less than 5½ minutes apart to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead in a first period it dominated. Neal tacked on the Penguins' fourth goal 7:16 into the final period.
The Penguins beat the Capitals for the fifth time in a row.
Washington had been playing its best hockey of the season, going into Wednesday with three consecutive wins overall, and six straight at home.
Pittsburgh and Washington came in as the top two clubs in the new Metropolitan Division. The last time they played each other as members of the same division was 1993.
"It was a game you were looking forward to, a team that you want to beat," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "A measuring stick."
There was a time when Crosby and Ovechkin dominated the NHL — with their slick play on the ice and by drawing plenty of attention off it — and their rivalry meant games between the Penguins and Capitals were must-see affairs. That included an exciting seven-game playoff series won by Pittsburgh in 2009, when each star scored eight goals.
Over the next few seasons, though, Crosby's injuries and Ovechkin's suddenly sporadic scoring diminished the attraction of the matchup.
Both appear to be back at the height of their powers: Ovechkin, who won his third Hart Trophy last season as NHL MVP, entered the day tied for the league lead with 17 goals, while 2007 MVP Crosby was tied for the points lead.
"There's always those kind of little matchups in the game that as a player you realize are there. That's just kind of a natural thing happening. You're used to it. These ones, there's a few more eyes on the games," said Crosby, who scored his 11th goal. "I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it brings out the best in everyone."
Notes: Washington's power play entered the day ranked second in the NHL at 24 percent, but went 0 for 3. ... The Capitals have been shut out twice in their past 16 games after going without a goal just once last season. ... The Penguins won all three games against the Capitals last season, Pittsburgh's first sweep against Washington since 2006-07. ... Pittsburgh hasn't dropped four consecutive road games since a skid from Dec. 29, 2009, to Jan. 3, 2010. ... Malkin began the game with a league-high 10 assists in November. ... Six of the teams' preceding eight games in Washington were decided by one goal.
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