WASHINGTON – With three of their top offensive players out, the Washington Capitals are still right there atop the Metropolitan Division.
Even Sidney Crosby's return couldn't help Pittsburgh keep up.
Garnet Hathaway scored his third goal in two games, Alex Ovechkin added two assists and the Capitals routed the Penguins 6-1 on Sunday night in Crosby's first game back. Crosby and defenseman Brian Dumoulin returned from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, but Washington easily won its fourth straight game.
Crosby went without a point in 16:57 of ice time. It was only his second game of the season. In addition to his COVID-related absence, he also missed the first seven games following offseason surgery.
“It’s his second game in five months, six months, so I think we have to understand where he’s at," said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who also rejoined the team from COVID-19 protocol. “He’s coming off a difficult 10 days that he just went through. I thought he played hard tonight under real challenging circumstances.”
Martin Fehervary, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson also scored for Washington, which pulled even with Carolina atop the division. The Capitals also trail Florida by a point for the NHL lead.
Washington continues to win despite being without Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha.
“They're leaders in our room, and when they're out, you just try and make them proud," Wilson said. "You try and work as hard as you can to battle for them. They've done it for me, they've done it for other guys when we were watching.”
Jake Guentzel scored in the first period for Pittsburgh after his team fell behind 2-0. Then Washington got second-period goals from two former Penguins.
With Washington up 2-1, Dumoulin lost the puck near the blue line. Lars Eller skated in, waited patiently for Pittsburgh's Kris Letang to slide past, then fed Sprong on the opposite doorstep for his third goal of the season.
“If I’m the lineup, I feel like I’ve got to play a little bit better,” Dumoulin said. “Obviously on that third goal, that’s one I’d like to have back, especially late in the period.”
Sheary, who was on the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning teams of 2016 and 2017, scored 2:35 later to give Washington a 4-1 advantage with 1:24 left in the second.
Ovechkin found Kuznetsov free in the slot in the third period for his sixth goal of the season. Then Wilson scored on a power play — shortly after Crosby was called for cross-checking to the delight of the Washington crowd.
This was the first time all season the Penguins were playing the second game of a back-to-back. Saturday night's game wasn't much better for Pittsburgh — a 6-3 loss at Ottawa.
Fehervary opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, taking a pass from Wilson on a 2-on-1 and beating Tristan Jerry. Washington made it 2-0 when Ovechkin took a long pass off the boards from Trevor van Riemsdyk, then made a cross-ice feed to Hathaway.
Guentzel cut the lead in half with 1:20 left in the first when he was able to collect the puck in front of the crease and stickhandle around goalie Vitek Vanecek.
Hathaway went without a goal in his first 13 games of the season before scoring twice in Washington's 4-3 win at Columbus on Friday night. Sheary scored a late game-winner in that one, and those two both had multipoint nights against Pittsburgh.
During a first-period stoppage, Ovechkin received a warm ovation from the crowd and a message from Brett Hull was played on the video screen. Ovechkin scored his 742nd goal Friday, moving past Hull for fourth place on the NHL's career list.
The Capitals signed forward Nic Dowd to a three-year, $3.9 million extension before the game. Dowd has been out with a lower-body injury, although players like Hathaway have picked up the slack lately in his absence.
“Maybe I need to stay out," Dowd said with a laugh. “I want him to keep going. Hopefully I’ll get back and we can’t play together because he’s scoring too much.”
NOTES: Fehervary became the first Capitals rookie defenseman to score a short-handed goal since Ken Klee in 1995.
Penguins: Host Buffalo on Tuesday night.
Capitals: At Anaheim on Tuesday night.
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