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NHL Pittsburgh PenguinsWashington Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Top Line Proves Too Much for Washington Capitals

Getty Images

Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, but the Pittsburgh Penguins found a way to defeat the Washington Capitals Monday night, completing a five-game road trip in which they earned six out of a possible 10 points. The Penguins’ top line, consisting of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Lee Stempniak had the loudest say in the 3-2 victory, with Kunitz scoring twice and Crosby tallying on the power play as well.

I’ve been extremely critical of Crosby’s play lately, but Monday night he looked like his old self again. He looked confident with the puck and wasn’t trying to force plays through clogged passing lanes in the offensive zone, something he had constantly been doing in the past few games.

Perhaps more importantly, Crosby also looked great in his own end.

He shut down Alex Ovechkin and made three or four real crisp passes from behind his own net in order to spring quick breakouts. It’s easy to notice when Crosby is clicking offensively, but he’s at his best when he is just as damaging in the defensive zone.

Crosby assisted on both of Kunitz’s goals as well, which now gives him a 17-point lead in the NHL scoring race. Barring an injury, Crosby appears to be a lock for the Hart Memorial Trophy.

Newly acquired Stempniak played his best game as a member of the Penguins as well on Monday. He is starting to look more comfortable playing alongside Crosby and Kunitz as time goes on, and by playoff time he should have the understanding of his role down perfectly. Stempniak’s two assists Monday night gave the first line for the Penguins a total of seven points on the night.

On the other side of the coin was Evgeni Malkin‘s line, which was awful and all over the place at times. Malkin’s laziness also was the main reason for a too many men on the ice infraction called against the Penguins with just over two minutes left in the game. Considering the Penguins were holding on to a one-goal lead at that point, Malkin’s lack of effort couldn’t have came at a worse time.

Thankfully, the number-one ranked penalty kill in the NHL did its job and allowed the Penguins to hold on for their 43rd victory of the season.

For some reason, head coach Dan Bylsma decided to shake up the combination of Malkin, Jussi Jokinen and James Neal on Monday by switching out Jokinen for the likes of Taylor Pyatt. I didn’t think the move made any sense when I first heard it, and I still don’t think it does now. Malkin’s line had been the strongest part of the offense since coming back from the Olympic break, but Bylsma was probably trying to give his third line an offensive threat by moving Jokinen down to that spot. Malkin’s line was shuffled throughout the course of the game, but it’d be strange to think that Bylsma wouldn’t go back to the original combination.

Jeff Zatkoff also played great in net on Monday, picking up 31 saves and only allowing two goals after being dismantled by the San Jose Sharks in his last appearance.

Shane Darrow is an NHL writer for Rant Sports; Feel free to follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow