WASHINGTON – Sidney Crosby had a hand in both early goals as Pittsburgh converted on two of its first three shots Monday night, Chris Kunitz scored twice, and the Penguins beat Alex Ovechkin’s struggling Washington Capitals 3-2.
Crosby finished with his 30th goal and two assists to raise his NHL-leading point total to 87, matching his uniform number. The Penguins beat Washington for the seventh consecutive time and overtook idle Boston for the Eastern Conference’s best record.
The Capitals, who began the day outside of the playoff picture in 10th place in the East, have lost four of their past five games.
The teams play each other again Tuesday at Pittsburgh.
Monday’s game featured the largely uneventful NHL debut of a player Capitals general manager George McPhee likened to the Loch Ness Monster – “We’ve heard of you, but we haven’t seen you” – Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound winger was a first-round draft pick in 2010, but has been playing in Russia until now.
He signed a two-year, entry-level contract Saturday and got on the ice for the first time about two minutes into Monday’s game, part of Washington’s fourth line with Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle.
Wearing No. 92, Kuznetsov also got a bit of a run with the top line, alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and even some power-play action.
Penguins rookie goalie Jeff Zatkoff made 31 saves.
Ovechkin, the three-time MVP who leads the NHL with 44 goals, was held without a point.
Pittsburgh went ahead 1-0 on its first shot of the game, all of 46 seconds after the opening faceoff, when Crosby slid the puck across the ice to left wing Kunitz.
Easily gliding past defenseman Mike Green, Kunitz flipped his shot past Jaroslav Halak, who was still wearing an all-white goalie’s mask in his second consecutive start for Washington after arriving last week in a trade.
The Capitals evened things less than 2½ minutes later, when Jason Chimera sent a pass from along the boards over to Eric Fehr, who netted his 11th goal.
That tie did not last long: 38 seconds after the goal, Backstrom was sent to the penalty box for slashing Crosby — and 11 seconds after that, Crosby made it 2-1 with his 30th goal.
Evgeni Malkin passed the puck to the top of the right circle, where Crosby one-timed Pittsburgh’s third shot of the game into the net. The game was not quite four minutes old, and Crosby already was responsible for two points, along with drawing the penalty that set up his power-play goal.
He also heard plenty of cheering from Penguins fans. That same group booed loudly when Crosby was whistled for holding when he wrapped his arms around Dustin Penner and pulled the winger to the ice near the goal.
Pittsburgh killed off that penalty. But Washington converted on its next power play, later in the second period, with Joe Vitale off for tripping. The Capitals entered with 27 power-play goals at home, tied for the most in the NHL, and Backstrom’s score at the 8:57 mark made it 2-all.
This tie was a short one, too, lasting a little more than 3½ minutes. And, not surprisingly, Crosby was involved in Pittsburgh’s goal again. He dropped a no-look pass back to Lee Stempniak, whose shot was kicked away by Halak, but Kunitz was there to poke in the rebound for his 31st goal and a 3-2 lead.
Pittsburgh wrapped up a season-high five-game road trip with a 3-2 record. ... Washington D John Carlson played in his 300th NHL game, all with the Capitals. ... The Penguins have seven consecutive full seasons with at least 20 road wins (not counting last season’s lockout-shortened schedule). ... Kuznetsov’s appearance marked Washington’s fourth game in a row in which a player made his debut with the club.