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02/07/2013 10:45 PM EST
Penguins overwhelm struggling Capitals 5-2
PITTSBURGH 5, WASHINGTON 2

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin used to be
one of the most electric rivalries in hockey.



Those days, at least for the moment, appear to be over.



Crosby extended his points streak to six games with a goal and
two assists and the Pittsburgh Penguins pounded the lifeless
Washington Capitals 5-2 on Thursday night.



"I think right now we're confident in the way we're playing and
believe in the way we're playing," Crosby said. "Hopefully at
the end we have the result we want."



Evgeni Malkin added a goal and two assists, while Pascal Dupuis,
James Neal and Matt Cooke scored for the Penguins, who have won
five straight. Pittsburgh's revamped power play produced three
goals, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots for the
Penguins, who moved atop the Eastern Conference standings by
beating Washington at home in regulation for the first time in
more than five years.



Not bad for a team that barely a week ago appeared a step slow
in dispiriting losses to Toronto and the New York Islanders.
Coach Dan Bylsma tweaked the power play - moving Neal to a spot
closer to the net and giving Crosby more freedom - and the
Penguins have taken off.



"The (power play) was great tonight," Neal said. "As long as
everybody is working and we're shooting the puck, good things
will happen. We got some great goals off of it tonight."



Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro scored for Washington but couldn't
stop the NHL's worst team from losing for the fifth time in its
last six games. Michal Neuvirth made nine saves for the Capitals
before getting pulled for Braden Holtby, who promptly let in
three goals in his first seven minutes on the ice.



"We got a lead and we stop playing," Ovechkin said.



The Penguins played without All-Star defenseman Kris Letang, who
was a late scratch due to a lower-body injury. Pittsburgh hardly
needed him on a night the Penguins showcased just how quickly a
rivalry featuring two of the NHL's biggest stars has turned into
a mismatch.



The Capitals have owned the regular-season series with their
biggest rival in recent years and came in 9-0-1 during their
last 10 visits to Pittsburgh.



It seems like eons ago now.



Washington has failed to find any footing under new coach Adam
Oates, though Oates insisted he has been encouraged by his
team's play despite its rough start. Pittsburgh had its way with
the Capitals in a 6-3 victory in Washington on Sunday as Chris
Kunitz scored four times.



Four days later, the gap between the clubs appeared to turn into
a chasm.



"We kind of leaked oil for five minutes and that's all you need
in the NHL right now," Oates said.



Things started off well enough for the Capitals when Ribeiro
pounced on a rebound and slammed it past a fallen Fleury just
4:12 into the game to give Washington an early 1-0 lead. The
Capitals controlled play for long stretches during the first
half of the game, keeping Crosby and Malkin in check.



And just like that, it disappeared.



Malkin tied it 6:59 into the second period with a power-play
goal, taking a cross-ice pass from Crosby and wristing it over
Neuvirth's glove. Pittsburgh moved ahead less than six minutes
later when Dupuis slid a wrist shot between Neuvirth's legs.



Searching for a spark, Oates pulled Neuvirth for Holtby, who led
Washington to the cusp of the Eastern Conference finals last
spring. The spark never materialized.



"It seemed like that was turning point," Holtby said. "It got
even worse after I got in."



Did it ever.



Shortly after Holtby hopped over the boards, Neal pushed it to
3-1 by taking a pass from Kunitz and sprinting his way across
the crease and tucking the puck under the woefully out of place
goaltender.



Barely 10 seconds later, it was 4-1 after Cooke's slap shot from
the point went through a screen and into the net.



Crosby closed out Pittsburgh's highest-scoring period in more
than two years by swatting a rebound out of midair to give
Pittsburgh a four-goal lead. The five goals by the Penguins were
the most they scored in a 20-minute stretch since scoring five
in an 8-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Jan. 5, 2011.



That romp was Crosby's final game of the season. He sat out the
next night with concussion-like symptoms that ended up
sidelining him for the better part of two years.



The former league MVP is 100 percent now, and so is his team.
His six-game point streak is his longest since he collected a
point in 25 straight games from Nov. 5-Dec. 28, 2010. He leads
the NHL with 12 assists and is second in points with 17.



Ovechkin and the Capitals, meanwhile, continue to search for any
sliver of hope. The Russian scored his third goal of the season
early in the third period but it proved little help on a night
Washington was outclassed at both ends of the ice.



"We need a win and once we get that win, confidence will build
up," Ribeiro said. "We just have a hard time playing 60
minutes."



NOTES: Forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi joined Letang
as scratches for the Penguins ... Defensemen Tom Poti and John
Erskine and forward Mathieu Perreault were scratched by
Washington ... The Capitals last regulation loss in Pittsburgh
came on Oct. 18, 2007 ... Both teams play again on Saturday.
Pittsburgh travels to New Jersey while Washington hosts Florida.

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