Capitals score six, spoil Crosby’s return to Penguins
WASHINGTON — Sidney Crosby returned after missing five games in NHL COVID-19 protocol for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Sunday.
The Pittsburgh forward played 16:02, had one shot on goal and took a penalty. He missed the first seven games of the season recovering from offseason wrist surgery, played Oct. 30 in a 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils then went into protocol on Nov. 3.
“It’s his second game in five months, six months. So I think we have to understand where he’s at and he’s coming off a difficult 10 days that he just went through,” coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby. “I thought he played hard tonight under real challenging circumstances, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll get better and better as each day goes by here and each game he plays.”
Garnet Hathaway, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson each had a goal and an assist for the Capitals (9-2-4), who have won four straight. Alex Ovechkin had two assists and Vitek Vanecek made 24 saves.
“Guys are working hard, pushing, pushing to create. It’s nice to see guys getting rewarded with offense,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “You can’t count on one line the entire year so other guys chipping in … that secondary scoring helps move the needle in the right direction for us.”
Jake Guentzel scored for the Penguins (5-5-4), who are 2-2-2 in their past six games and were playing the second of back-to-back games after a 6-3 loss at the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Tristan Jarry made 26 saves.
“You never want to lose back-to-back like that, in that fashion,” Guentzel said. “It definitely doesn’t feel good, but it’s nice when you get some guys back and hopefully we can move on from these two. … We’ve got to stop the bleeding here.”
Sullivan returned after missing five games in COVID-19 protocol. Defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson and Chad Ruhwedel were also back from protocol for Pittsburgh.
Martin Fehervary gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 4:25 of the first period when he finished a 2-on-1 rush by converting a pass from Wilson for a short-handed goal.
“It was a great play by Tommy,” Fehervary said. “I was thinking if I can pass it [back] or whatever but I see the lane. I know that I can score, and I just hit it.”
Hathaway made it 2-0 at 14:05. Ovechkin carried in on the right side, faked a shot and passed across to Hathaway, who knocked it in from just below the left circle for his third goal in two games.
Guentzel pulled the Penguins within 2-1 at 18:40 when he controlled the puck in front of the net, pulled it around Vanecek’s right pad and tucked it in.
The Capitals made it 3-1 when Lars Eller passed across the crease to Sprong for the one-timer at 16:11 of the second.
“I think that’s exactly the recipe for success for us,” Eller said of the depth scoring. “We get contributions from every line we’re going to be hard to play against and defend against and match up against.”
Sheary’s wrist shot from the right circle at 18:36 increased the lead to 4-1.
“Obviously this game got away from us there,” Dumoulin said. “They scored a couple quick goals there in the second period. I thought even though they scored two early, we were coming. We just got to be better for a full 60.”
Kuznetsov made it 5-1 when he scored from the slot at 4:43 of the third period, and Wilson’s power-play goal on a breakaway at 9:35 increased the lead to 6-1.
NOTES: Dumoulin played 19:55 and had two hits and two takeaways. Pettersson had five hits in 17:09. Ruhwedal blocked four shots in 19:25. … Pittsburgh assigned forward Drew O’Connor, defensemen Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Juuso Riikola and goalie Louis Domingue to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. … Capitals forward Nic Dowd, 31, signed a three-year, $3.9 million contract. Dowd, who is on the injured list (lower body), leads the Capitals in face-offs (56.4 percent) among players with at least 100 draws taken and ranks third in penalty kill time per game among forwards (1:21). … Former Penguins Sheary and Sprong have seven goals in 12 games and four goals in seven games, respectively, against Pittsburgh. … The Penguins went 2-1-2 with assistant Todd Reirden filling in for Sullivan.