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Defense steps up as Pens blank Capitals

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
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The Penguins' Matt Niskanen (2) and the Capitals' Mikhail Grabovski battle for the puck during the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates after scoring a second-period goal against the Capitals on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, at Verizon Center in Washington.
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The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin skates with the puck against the Capitals during the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) scores a goal on the Capitals' Braden Holtby during the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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NCapitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) makes a save in front of Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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The Penguins' Joe Vitale pass the puck in front of the Capitals' Aaron Volpatti during the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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Penguins right wing Pascal Dupuis (9) skates with the puck as Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner (27) defends in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates with the puck against the Capitals during the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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Penguins left wing James Neal (18) shoots the puck as Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy (61) defends in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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Penguins right wing Beau Bennett (19) celebrates with center Evgeni Malkin (71) after scoring a goal on Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) skates with the puck as Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt (88) defends in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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The Penguins' Matt Niskanen (2) and the Capitals' Mikhail Grabovski go after the puck during the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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Penguins defenseman Paul Martin (7) scores a goal against the Capitals in the first period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin (8) collides with Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) in the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates his goal with left wing Chris Kunitz (14) in the second period against the Capitals on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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Capitals center Michael Latta (46) skates with the puck past Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (3) in the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosb takes a shot of goal in front of the Capitals' Karl Alzner during the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19) skates with the puck as Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) chases in the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
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The Capitals' Tyson Strachan (23) checks the Penguins' Sidney Crosby during the second period Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.
Penguins right wing Beau Bennett (19) celebrates with teammates after his goal in the first period against the Capitals on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington.

WASHINGTON — Dan Bylsma used a word Wednesday night not often associated with the Penguins.

Maybe never associated with the Penguins.

“Smothering,” Bylsma said after a 4-0 victory over the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.

Smothering.

Mario Lemieux's Penguins. Sidney Crosby's Penguins. The Penguins, with their 14 individual scoring championships, a “smothering” defensive team.

Alex Ovechkin's Capitals were held to 18 shots — only 46 attempts compared to 60 from the Penguins.

“Smothering is a word we use,” Bylsma said.

It is an expectation for the way they want to play up to and through the Stanley Cup playoffs, too.

They indeed were smothering in earning a second consecutive victory after losing four of five games.

The Capitals were one of eight clubs to average at least three goals per game. They are one of 15 opponents not to score more than two goals against the Penguins, who are allowing 2.18 goals-against per game.

Bylsma had that kind of suffocating defense in mind when he hired reputable guru Jacques Martin as an assistant coach in the summer. Martin has helped implement a left-wing lock system that, when working, forces turnovers in the neutral zone.

The Penguins (14-8-0, 28 points) have spent much of the season creating those turnovers.

What pleases Crosby is the team's ability to make use of those turnovers in the past two games.

“We've been really good defensively, but our offense has helped,” Crosby said. “We've done a lot better (of a) job holding onto the puck in the offensive zone.”

Crosby's 11th goal — scored late in the second period on a power play — finished a pretty passing sequence from Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.

Neal and defenseman Paul Martin, each with their second, and Beau Bennett, with his first, also scored for the Penguins, who had produced only 28 goals in 13 prior contests.

The offense, usually top-five under Bylsma when Crosby and Malkin have been healthy, will come around, defenseman Brooks Orpik predicted.

This defense, said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, is “like, really good, right?”

Fleury earned his second shutout, and aside from a “few shots on (the Capitals') three power plays,” barely broke a sweat.

His Capitals counterpart, Braden Holtby, was peppered with 40 shots, including 32 over the opening 40 minutes.

Malkin, whose streak of games without a goal is 15, finished with six attempted shots, three of which found their way on Holtby. Bylsma wanted to see that kind of assertiveness from Malkin, who passed on a couple of prime shot opportunities in the third period of a home win over Anaheim on Monday night.

Malkin, who assisted on goals by Bennett and Neal, looked engaged against the Capitals.

His rival, Ovechkin, looked frustrated — perhaps because Bylsma successfully matched his shutdown pairing of Martin and Orpik against arguably the NHL's dominant offensive weapon.

Ovechkin had scored 37 goals in 42 games dating to last season, but he was held to two shots. He misfired on five attempts and had three blocked.

“You could see their skill guys getting frustrated because when they were coming at us they had to come 200 feet,” Orpik said. “For 60 minutes, that's definitely the best we've played defensively.”

The Penguins have allowed only 29 goals in the last 14 games.

“I know a lot has been made of us not being able to score as much as we've wanted to the last few weeks,” Orpik said. “With the talent we have in our room, I don't think that's going to be a chronic problem.

“Our defense has been overlooked in that goal drought.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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