NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby will try to help the Pittsburgh Penguins extend their longest point streak in nearly 14 years when they host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
The Penguins (31-17-9) continued their remarkable run Friday at New Jersey, scoring three first-period goals and holding for a 5-4 victory.
“We were hungry to start the game,” Pens coach Michel Therrien said. “We set the tone. When you get out to a lead like we did in the first period, you put yourself in good position to win the game.”
Jarkko Ruutu scored twice and Crosby added a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, which won its fifth in a row and recorded at least a point for the 15th straight game (13-0-2). The run is the second-longest in franchise history, trailing only the 1992-93 team which closed that season with 17 wins and a tie.
The victory also moved the Penguins a step closer to the Atlantic Division-leading Devils. The teams have three regular-season meetings remaining, the next at Pittsburgh on Feb. 27.
“We do play them three more times, so the possibility is there,” Crosby said when asked about a potential division title. “Right now, we’re concentrating on getting points. It’s not good for our mind-set to think about anything else.”
Although goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has played well, the Penguins have been relying on offense to win, scoring four goals or more in regulation in each of their last five games. They have scored three goals or more 14 times during the 15-game run, the lone exception being a 2-0 victory over the Capitals (23-26-9) on Feb. 3.
Pittsburgh ranks third in the NHL with 200 goals after finishing 19th with 244 last season.
Crosby, the NHL leader with 90 points, had gone a career-high eight games without a goal before recording his 26th of the season Friday.
Rookie Jordan Staal scored his 24th goal, giving him eight in his last seven games. Fellow first-year player Evgeni Malkin assisted on Staal’s goal and has four goals and nine assists in his last nine contests.
The Penguins have won both meetings with the Capitals this season and six of the last seven. Pittsburgh has been dominant at home in the series, going 23-5-0 with one tie in the last 29 matchups.
Crosby was held without a point in Pittsburgh’s most recent victory over Washington after recording four goals and seven assists in his first five games in the series.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, has three goals and five assists in six games against Pittsburgh.
The Capitals appear to be on their way to missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season and lost their fifth straight road game Thursday, 3-2 in a shootout to Tampa Bay.
Dainius Zubrus’ goal with 14.9 seconds left in regulation helped Washington get a point for only the second time in its last 12 on the road (1-10-1).
“It’s upsetting, but we can take a lot of positive things out of the game,” Zubrus said.
Thursday’s game was the first for the Capitals without starting goalie Olaf Kolzig, who injured his knee in practice Monday and is expected to miss at least three weeks.
Brent Johnson stopped 27 shots in his first start since Jan. 26.
Ovechkin, among the league leaders with 34 goals, has been relatively quiet of late with one goal and one assist in his past six games.