PITTSBURGH – Alex Ovechkin scored the only goal and Michal Neuvirth was perfect for the second straight time against the Penguins, leading the Washington Capitals to a 1-0 win at Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Neuvirth made 39 saves, including 18 in the first period, for his third shutout of the season, and second against the Penguins after a 3-0 victory on Feb. 6. Ovechkin secured the Capitals third win in four games by blasting a 35-footer over Marc-Andre Fleury's right shoulder late in the second period.
Ovechkin's goal — his first in four games this season against Pittsburgh — made up for Fleury stoning him on a breakaway in the first period in an entertaining back-and-forth game between two Eastern Conference rivals. The Capitals continue to have the edge on the Penguins, winning their season series 3-0-1 and improving to 10-0-2 since March 2008.
Fleury was solid in stopping 23 shots as the offensively depleted Penguins dropped to 2-4-1 in their past seven. Help is on the way for Pittsburgh, which hours prior to the game traded defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas in exchange for forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.
Pittsburgh out-shot the Capitals 39-24, including 14-3 in the third period, but couldn't solve Neuvirth.
The Penguins had plenty of jump but no finish for a team that's down 10 regulars, including Sidney Crosby. Pittsburgh hasn't scored against Washington in 157:47 since Evgeni Malkin's second-period goal in a 3-1 loss during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.
The Capitals (32-19-10), coming off a 2-1 win at Buffalo a day earlier, went 3-2 in completing a five-game road trip and inched to within a point of Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay and three points of the fourth-place Penguins in the East.
Ovechkin scored on the power-play with 3:22 left in the second period, and about 50 seconds after Neuvirth kicked out his right pad to stop Jordan Staal on a short-handed breakaway.
Mike Knuble had a hand in setting up the goal by gaining the Penguins zone and getting a shot off that Fleury stopped. The rebound popped into the air and to Marcus Johansson, who gloved the puck down and fed a pass to Ovechkin, who wound up and blasted a shot beating Fleury over the right shoulder with 3:22 left in the second period.
Ovechkin then punctuated the goal by punching the air and giving out a big yell.
The Penguins got off to a fast start, outshooting the Capitals 10-2 through 13 minutes and finished the first period with an 18-7 edge.
Neuvirth was very sharp. He kicked out his right pad to block Pascal Dupuis' backhander from the left circle with 6:12 left in the first period. Less than 3 minutes later, Neuvirth punched out his blocker to turn away Ryan Craig's shot from the left circle, set up following a turnover by the Capitals in their own zone.
The Capitals did have their chances, the best coming 9 minutes in when Ovechkin got in on a partial breakaway after he blocked Deryk Engelland's point shot. With a step on two defenders, Ovechkin went forehand and then got of a sharp backhander, which Fleury stopped by getting his stick and arm out.
The Pens-Caps rivalry has escalated this season, particularly after the Capitals' 3-1 win in the Winter Classic at Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, a game in which Washington's David Steckel collided with Crosby. It was the first of two hits to the head Crosby sustained in consecutive games, which has led to the Penguins' captain missing the past 20 games with a concussion.
Penguins agitator Matt Cooke then targeted Ovechkin, tripping him with a knee-to-knee hit in the rematch on Feb. 6, which Washington won 3-0.
On Monday, Penguins fans did let up a cheer in the first period Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy shoved Ovechkin, causing the Capitals captain to fall backward, after the whistle during a scrum in front of the Penguins' net.
Cooke was targeted, as Washington's Matt Bradley was penalized for charging for a heavy hit on the Penguins player in the Capitals zone midway through the second period.
NOTES: The Penguins are in the midst of a two-game homestand sandwiched between nine road games. After hosting San Jose on Wednesday, Pittsburgh leaves on a five-game road swing. ... Penguins D Paul Martin is day to day after being shaken up by a hit at Chicago on Sunday. To fill his spot, Pittsburgh recalled D Brian Strait from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. ... Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau entered the game with a 10-1-3 career record against the Penguins. ... Penguins LW Chris Kunitz resumed practicing Monday after missing six games with a lower body injury, and could be ready to return this week.