PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Washington Capitals played their most complete game of the season against one of their biggest rivals.
Conor Sheary and Jakub Vrana scored in the second period, and the Capitals stopped a four-game slide by topping the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Tuesday night.
Lars Eller also scored for Washington, and Vitek Vanecek stopped 26 shots in his 11th straight start.
“It’s hard when you lose a hockey game, especially when it’s your fourth one,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think the effort was really good tonight. It seemed like everybody was on point and dialed in, and ready to play.”
Pittsburgh won its first five games at home, including three against the Capitals. Zach Aston-Reese set a career high with his third goal in as many games, and Tristan Jarry made 39 saves for the Penguins.
Washington allowed 22 goals during its losing streak. That included six on Sunday against Pittsburgh in the Capitals’ first game in a week thanks to a series of COVID-19-related postponements.
The Capitals were at full strength Sunday after three-plus weeks of COVID-19 roster disruptions. They looked the part two nights later, securing their first win this month.
After an even first period, the Capitals scored twice and outshot the Penguins 18-5 in the second.
Sheary, who spent four seasons in Pittsburgh, opened the scoring at 4:52 with his third goal of the season. Sheary took a pass from Richard Panik and beat Jarry with a glove-side wrist shot from the bottom of the circle.
In seven career games against Pittsburgh, Sheary has five goals. Panik’s assist was the 100th of his career.
Pittsburgh, which has trailed in each of its 14 games this season, hit two posts during a pair of first-period power plays, and Vanecek stopped Brandon Tanev on a short-handed breakaway in the second.
“I thought we had the start we wanted,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We hit two posts. If we score there, the complexion of the game changes drastically. I thought the power play was really good early in the game. The puck just didn’t go in for us.”
Vrana scored his second goal in as many games at 11:31. Vrana, shortly after the Capitals’ third power play of the period expired, took a cross-ice pass from T.J. Oshie and beat Jarry to the glove side.
Eller gave the Capitals a 3-0 lead just 1:09 into the third. The Capitals took advantage of a defensive breakdown, with Panik finding Eller, who ripped a shot past a sprawled Jarry.
Sullivan felt the game shifted in the second period when the Penguins were forced to kill three penalties.
“We spent almost half the period killing penalties,” Sullivan said. “It takes guys out of the flow of the game, and it gives Washington momentum even when they don’t score. We certainly didn’t help ourselves in the second period with the amount of penalties that we took.”
OVI ON THE BACKCHECK
Alex Ovechkin’s key defensive backcheck helped set up Washington’s second goal.
After the Capitals’ third power play of the second, Ovechkin, who was out for an extended two-minute shift, rushed back and dove to break up a 2-on-1 pass from Pierre-Oliver Joseph to Tanev. Moments later, Vrana scored in transition.
“That moment in the game, a goal the other way would’ve been pretty devastating, especially with the four losses in a row,” Oshie said. “I was skating as hard as I could and still couldn’t get there. He found a way to pull himself up there, dive and make the play. For us to go down and score, it was a big point in the game.”
CAPITALS LINE SHUFFLE
The Capitals shuffled their top two lines to give Pittsburgh a different look.
Vrana and Ovechkin switched spots at left wing. Ovechkin started with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while Vrana joined Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson.
“There were a lot of things that I liked last game,” Laviolette said. “We just needed to clean it up a little bit. Overall, it was pretty good. I thought tonight was cleaner.”
WELCOME BACK PETTERSSON
Pittsburgh activated defenseman Marcus Pettersson from injured reserve. He missed the previous nine games with an upper-body injury after he got hurt against Washington on Jan. 19.
Defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Juuso Riikola remain out of the lineup. Riikola missed his 10th straight game and Dumoulin was out for his seventh straight. Pittsburgh sat defenseman Chad Ruhwedel in favor of Pettersson.
The Penguins host the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Penguins close February with six games against either the Islanders or Capitals.
The Capitals open a five-game homestand Thursday against Buffalo.