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Crosby lifts Penguins over Capitals in last game of road trip

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 9:45 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Sidney Crosby knows the Penguins can play better.

Of course, they do not always need to because of performances like the one he provided Monday night.

In a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center, Crosby was the sure-shooting goal scorer and the sharp-passing playmaker and the forechecking penalty killer and the defender below his own goal line.

He also won 14 of 19 faceoffs.

Every example of his value was on display in front of the Capitals fans that loathe him and the captain of their team, Alex Ovechkin, Crosby's chief rival of nine NHL seasons and a three-time — and reigning — MVP.

“It was a very good game,” coach Dan Bylsma said, smiling as he searched in vain for a more fitting description of Crosby's work against Washington.

Good did not do justice to the one-time shot Crosby whipped past Capitals goalie Jaroslav Halak about three minutes after setting up left winger Chris Kunitz's opening goal in the first period. Crosby eyed the open side of the net while positioning himself to receive a “great pass” from center Evgeni Malkin.

He also is eying a second MVP and scoring title. After also assisting on Kunitz's 31st goal, scored in the second period, Crosby's league-best point total stands at 87.

He paces the NHL with 57 assists, and his 30 goals are more than the combined total of the players ranked Nos. 2-4 in assists.

The Penguins (43-17-4, 90 points) went 3-2-0 on a grueling five-game road trip that covered six cities and more than 7,000 miles and included three games against Western Conference powers Chicago, San Jose and Anaheim.

Crosby played a pivotal role in each victory.

A week ago, at Nashville, he assisted on each of the Penguins' goals in a 3-1 victory over the Predators.

Over the weekend at Anaheim, Crosby's behind-the-back pass started a tic-tac-toe sequence that ended with Malkin's tying goal in the third period of an eventual 3-2 shootout win.

The Penguins will play Washington on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, and veteran winger Craig Adams said he is hopeful their overall performance begins to improve.

“I still don't feel great about the way we're playing,” Adams said. “We did some good things, but we didn't put a complete game together. Again (Monday night) we spent too much time in our own end.

“We defended well, but we don't want to defend all the time. We want to play in their end.”

Too much energy spent defending contributed to a too-many-men minor penalty with 2 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Penguins' top-ranked penalty kill held off the Capitals' No. 2-ranked power play, including 1:01 with an extra attacker because Halak was pulled.

Goalie Jeff Zatkoff (31 saves) credited his penalty killers with closing off lanes to Ovechkin, the NHL goal leader and possessor of a right-handed shot that has produced 145 career power-play goals.

Ovechkin finished with eight attempted shots, but three were blocked, and he misfired on another.

Statistically, the Penguins lost the road trip all but in the wins ledger. The Penguins were outshot 170-110 and outscored 15-12.

“We understand that's not going to be a winning formula down the stretch,” Crosby said.

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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