By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
Sidney Crosby tends to have little trouble offensively against the Washington Capitals, and that's partly why the Pittsburgh Penguins are on the brink of their longest winning streak in the all-time series.
Roughly 24 hours after getting three points against the Capitals, Crosby tries to help the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins sweep a home-and-home set Tuesday night.
Crosby's 87 points lead the NHL, while also matching his uniform number. He's piled up six of them in three meetings with Washington, as he continues to outproduce Alex Ovechkin, the league's leader with 44 goals.
Crosby has 24 goals and 62 points in 35 career meetings with the Capitals - including the playoffs - and he's been particularly effective while compiling 14 points over the past six games.
That's a big reason why the Penguins (43-17-4) have scored 28 goals while winning seven straight meetings with Washington (30-26-10), matching their longest streak in the all-time series set from Feb. 2-Nov. 30, 1988.
The superstar center continued his role as the Capitals' nemesis Monday, scoring a goal and setting up two others to power a 3-2 victory at Washington. He set up the first of Chris Kunitz's two goals on the first shot of the game 46 seconds in, while finding the net himself just over 3 minutes later on the Penguins' third attempt on goal.
"It was a very good game. All aspects," coach Dan Bylsma said while understating Crosby's performance.
"We saw the speed (Crosby's line can) generate, and got the scoring chances," he added. "Used him in defensive situations, and (he) did a great job there on the penalty kill in the third."
A change of venue isn't likely to slow Crosby, as he's compiled 29 points in 16 home matchups, including the postseason, and has been held without a point just twice. He has six points in the past three games in Pittsburgh - all wins.
Kunitz, however, has failed to find the net in nine meetings with Washington in Pittsburgh. The left wing leads the team with 31 goals on the season - one more than Crosby.
While Crosby looks to continue his tear, Ovechkin is trying to get untracked after failing to get a point for a third straight game Monday. The star right wing is also a minus-3 over that stretch, making him a career-worst minus-26 on the season.
Improvement would be welcome since the Capitals have lost four of five. They're one point back of Columbus and Detroit for the final playoff position in the East with 16 games left, putting them in what Ovechkin called a "desperate position."
Perhaps a trip to Pittsburgh can get Ovechkin, a three-time Hart Trophy winner, going since he's scored 17 goals with 12 assists 20 career visits, including the playoffs. He's also found the net once in each of the past six games there.
Evgeny Kuznetsov is expected to play his second game after an uneventful 10 minutes in his NHL debut Monday. The 21-year-old forward, signed to an entry-level contract Saturday, was Washington's first-round draft pick in 2010 and has played five seasons in the KHL.
"We have to be patient and be realistic about expectations, because it's a foreign league for him. It's a foreign system. He's never played this way," coach Adam Oates said. "He's never played in front of this many people, really. So for me, I want to ease him in."
Updated March 11, 2014