PITTSBURGH — The captain has crazy glutes, but this has become heavy lifting for even him.
With their power play struggling, Evgeni Malkin looking listless throughout the first month of the season and the Penguins getting no offense whatsoever from their fourth line, much of the offensive burden has fallen on Sidney Crosby’s line.
Wearing defenders down with a vicious cycle and picking their spots on the rush, that top-line trio of Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust had scored eight 5-on-5 goals in the last eight games entering Tuesday. All three of those forwards scored in Sunday’s 6-3 victory of the Washington Capitals. Rust buried two.
But during Tuesday’s rematch at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals kept the Crosby line under wraps. And the rest of the Penguins rarely threatened in a 3-1 loss.
The second line was hardly noticeable in this two-game miniseries against the rival Capitals. Malkin didn’t have a point in either game. Kasperi Kapanen has now gone five games without a goal. And Jason Zucker had none in the last four.
Blue-liners Kris Letang and John Marino have yet to score this season.
The power-play unit squandered two chances to seize an early lead Tuesday.
And the fourth line has not chipped in with a goal since Jan. 19. Mark Jankowski had zero points in the last 12 games and Sam Lafferty and Drew O’Connor, who was a healthy scratch Tuesday, are still searching for their first goal of 2021.
Down 3-0 in the third period and looking for a spark, Mike Sullivan tried a couple new combinations. But the coach’s options are limited at this point, assuming he wants to keep the Crosby line, one of hockey’s hottest, together for now.
Sullivan moved the energetic Tanev next to Malkin and Zucker. But even that couldn’t wake up those two. That move also meant breaking up Teddy Blueger’s line, which has been an effective two-way trio in the first eight periods since Zach Aston-Reese returned to the lineup.
Aston-Reese did score with 4:55 left in the game, making it three straight games with a goal.
That would be all the Penguins got past a struggling Vitek Vanecek, who stopped 26 shots to snap a four-game losing streak.
Conor Sheary finally beat Jarry on Washington’s 22nd shot. The winger signed with the Capitals in the offseason after the Penguins did not make a push to re-sign him.
The Penguins killed four power plays in the second period. Tanev came oh-so-close to scoring on a short-handed breakaway.
Only 19 seconds after the last penalty expired, Jakub Vrana scored to make it 2-0.
Lars Ellerscored early in the third to put the game away.
The Penguins play host the New York Islanders on Thursday.