Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin collides with Penguins center Sidney Crosby in the second period last night.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal with left wing Chris Kunitz in the second period against the Washington Capitals.
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Washington Capitals defenseman Tyson Strachan checks Sidney Crosby during the second period at Verizon Center.
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Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen and Capitals centerman Mikhail Grabovski go after the puck.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON -- Listen to the talk before this game, and you would have gotten the impression it was all about the offense.
The guys who score goals. The guys who set them up. The guys who do both.
No surprise there, because any game featuring the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Nicklas Backstrom figures to put a pretty heavy emphasis on putting pucks in the net.
But not in the Penguins' 4-0 victory Wednesday night against Washington in the Verizon Center.
Oh, Crosby had a pretty productive game, with a goal and an assist, and Malkin punctuated a superb performance with a couple of assists, even though his goal-less streak swelled to 15 games.
But as much as anything, this victory was about the Penguins' team defense.
About how they limited the Capitals to 18 shots on goal. Not in a period, but in three.
About how goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was so rarely tested that his reward for earning his second shutout of the season and 25th in the NHL was no better than being selected as the No. 3 star of the game.
"We didn't give up a lot," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We didn't give them opportunities to use their speed and space. I thought it was tough for them to get through there."
The game was the first between the Penguins (14-8) and Capitals since both were placed in the Metropolitan Division, and the victory allowed the Penguins to pad their lead over second-place Washington to three points.
Satisfying as the victory was for the Penguins, however, it wasn't exactly a novelty. They are 9-3-2 in their past 14 games in Washington.
Coincidentally enough, that is the same as Fleury's all-time record at Verizon Center.
Solid as the Penguins were all over the ice, they did their best work between the blue lines.
"They were amazing through the neutral zone," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "They came with speed every single time, always had three guys, if not three, then four.
"Didn't give us any time to pinch. It was a great game by them and bad game by us. And we didn't possess the puck at all; we didn't get our cycle game going. They were making us turn and chase pucks all night. It was tough, real tough."
Defenseman Paul Martin, who had a terrific two-way game, gave the Penguins the only goal they would need at 6:38 of the opening period, as he wristed a shot past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby from the right point for his second of the season.
"They get one and it kind of deflated us," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "And we seemed to fight uphill battles after that the whole night."
Crosby got the only assist on Martin's goal by winning a faceoff against Capitals center Brooks Laich in the right circle and getting the puck back to Martin.
Crosby has at least one point in 13 of the 14 regular-season games he has played at Verizon Center.
His assist was a good portent for the Penguins, who are 14-3 when Crosby gets a point and 0-5 when he is shut out.
Beau Bennett made it a two-goal lead with his first of the season -- "I was putting a lot of pressure on myself," he said -- at 11:57, beating Holtby low on the stick side with a wrist shot from inside the right circle, and that one allowed the Penguins to make containing the Capitals offense even more of a priority.
"It always helps to get on the board early," Martin said. "Get a few goals. Play a little more smart defensively and manage the puck a little bit better. If we protect the puck and don't turn it over, our chances are a lot better."
If there was any suspense about the outcome after Bennett scored, Crosby removed it with a power-play goal 29 seconds before the second period ended. He beat Holtby from low in the left circle for his 11th this season to put an exclamation point on a series of excellent passes.
"I was hoping they would show the replay, but I guess they don't show replays of our goals," Bennett said. "It will be fun to watch on the highlights."
Neal rubbed it in by blurring in a wrist shot from just above the left dot at 7:16 of the third, but the outcome had been settled long before his shot slammed into the mesh behind Holtby.
"I think it's as maybe as complete of a game as we've played," Bylsma said." We came out, pushed the pace and the speed of the game.
"The second half of the game, it was a team effort with how we played the game and how we managed the puck, how we shut them down. It's definitely gratifying, shutting them out."
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