PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't even two weeks ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins were considered one of the NHL's biggest early season disappointments.
Despite being installed as the Stanley Cup favorites by many Las Vegas sports books, the Penguins played poorly in their first two home games. They looked lethargic in losing by three goals each to two lesser teams in Toronto and the New York Islanders.
Things have certainly changed for Pittsburgh. It is now one of the hottest teams in the league.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each had one goal and two assists as the Penguins rolled to a 5-2 victory over the skidding Washington Capitals on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center for their fifth consecutive victory.
While Pittsburgh (8-3-0) leads the Atlantic Division with 16 points, Washington (2-8-1) has an NHL-low five points and has lost three straight games and five of its last six.
Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and Matt Cooke also had goals for the Penguins. Chris Kunitz assisted on two goals and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots.
"This is just the way we've been playing lately -- much better hockey," Dupuis said. "We're playing much better defensively and not giving up much. We're holding the puck, managing it better and staying in the offensive zone longer. It's a great feeling right now. You never everything is clicking and everyone is feeling good about their game."
The Capitals got goals from Mike Riberio, who also had an assist for his fourth multi-point game in the last seven, and Alex Ovechkin.
The Penguins put the game away with a five-goal barrage in the second period after falling behind 1-0 after one period. Three of the five goals came on power plays and were scored by Malkin, Neal and Crosby.
Pittsburgh was three of six on power plays, making them 6 of 12 in their last three games after a 1-of-18 drought.
"The power plays got us rolling there, but I think the big thing was the first couple of games here we didn't play well," Neal said. "That was a real eye-opener. We've had a different mindset since then and we've been playing much better hockey."
Malkin tied the score at 1 at 6:59 as he scored his third goal of the season on a snap shot from the left faceoff circle on a pass from Crosby, who has a point in six straight games and eight assists in the last four games.
"That shot by Malkin was as good of a shot that you'll ever see," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That really got things going for us, changed the momentum."
At 12:49, Dupuis hauled in a rolling puck while on a two-on-one rush with Crosby and put a wrist shot past Michal Neuvirth for his fourth goal to put Pittsburgh ahead.
In a surprising move, Capitals first-year coach Adam Oates hooked Neuvirth, even thought he had stopped nine of 11 shots. The move backfired as the Penguins continued its onslaught against Braden Holtby.
"I thought we were playing really good hockey and those goals deflated us," Oates said. "I wanted to change momentum."
It didn't happen as Pittsburgh scored two goals in a span of 11 seconds to push its lead to 4-1 at 16:44. Neal backhanded home a rebound of a Kunitz shot for his seventh goal and Cooke scored his second from the left dot off a faceoff won by Brandon Sutter.
Crosby scored with 24 seconds left in the period, batting in a shot by Malkin with a two-handed baseball swing for his fifth goal.
"Sid hit a single up the middle," Bylsma said.
Ribeiro opened the scoring for Washington at 4:12 when he lifted a wrist shot over Fleury, who had his masked knocked off and fell to the ground after the Capitals' Wojtek Wolski backed into him. Officials reviewed the goal and allowed it, ruling Fleury was out of the crease.
The slumping Ovechkin scored just his third goal at 8:34 of the third period, drawing Washington within 5-2.
"We were doing everything you are supposed to do on the road," Oates said. "We had a 1-0 lead, we were killing penalties and frustrating them, but then we started leaking oil in that second period."
NOTES: Pittsburgh defenseman Chris Letang was scratched because of a lower body injury, which he apparently suffered in Tuesday's victory over the Islanders in New York and forced him to leave the morning skate early Thursday. The Penguins provided no further details and Bylsma said he is day-to-day. ... Washington defenseman John Erskine served the final game of his three-game suspension imposed by the NHL for elbowing Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds in the face last Friday. ... The Capitals are hopeful center Brooks Laich can participate in his first full-contract practice next week. He has yet to play this season because of a groin injury suffered while playing in Switzerland during the lockout. ... Defenseman Dylan Reese made his Penguins debut a day after being called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League to take the roster spot of defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who was traded to Anaheim. Reese, who played 14:07 and blocked two shots, is a native of Upper St. Clair, Pa., a Pittsburgh suburb. ...Capitals right wing Joey Crabb won just 2 of 13 faceoffs. ... Centers Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi were healthy scratches for Pittsburgh as were center Mathieu Perreault and defenseman Tom Poti for Washington.