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Penguins get 3rd win in row, topping Capitals 6-3

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Penguins get 3rd win in row, topping Capitals 6-3

WASHINGTON (AP) Chris Kunitz scored a hat trick in the Pittsburgh Penguins' Super Bowl Sunday visit to the nation's capital, leading a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals that reflected both teams' fortunes so far in the lockout-shortened season.

Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Matt Cooke also scored, Sidney Crosby had three assists, and Tomas Vokoun made 21 saves against his former team for the Penguins, who have won three straight and four of five to lead the Atlantic Division.

Mike Green, John Carlson and Mike Ribeiro scored for the Capitals - and Carlson's goal was an accident that took a weird carom off a stanchion along the glass. Two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin, who said before the game that he was somewhat embarrassed to have only three points on the season, contributed a secondary assist on a third-period power-play goal with Washington trailing by three.

Washington has lost seven of nine games to start the season. Hosting the Penguins as a Super Bowl warm-up for the third straight year, the Capitals no longer look like the formidable team that beat Pittsburgh 5-4 in overtime with a hat trick from Ovechkin in 2010 and shut out the Penguins 3-0 a year ago - both feisty games that included punches thrown by Ovechkin.

Ovechkin was overly physical in this game as well, getting a roughing call in the final two minutes.

Under new coach Adam Oates, the Capitals are feeling their way around the ice, especially on defense. Braden Holtby stopped only 20 of 26 shots, allowing Letang and Kunitz to beat him glove side 37 seconds apart in the second period to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.

Vokoun, who shut out the New York Rangers on Thursday, made a successful return to the Verizon Center. He was signed to be the Capitals' No. 1 goalie last season but hurt his groin and was eclipsed by Holtby during the playoffs, prompting Washington to trade him to Pittsburgh.

Martin scored from the point after Crosby won a faceoff in the Capitals' zone to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period. Washington tied it less than two minutes later after a nice sequence in which Ribeiro won the puck along the boards and passed it to Wojtek Wolski, who then sent it along to a wide-open Green.

After Cooke made it 2-1, Carlson tied it on a bizarre goal in the second period. The Capitals defenseman was merely trying to dump the puck along the boards, but it rose up and took an odd deflection. Vokoun had already started to retreat behind the net to intercept the puck and tripped trying to change direction to get back to the crease.

Notes: Ovechkin said before the game that the Capitals were in a ``desperate moment.'' He noted that he and other NHL players who spent the lockout playing in Russia should be doing better. ``Right now I'm standing here, I have only three points, and, you know, it kind of embarrass me.'' ... The Capitals played the first of three games without D John Erskine, who was suspended for three games for elbowing Wayne Simmonds in Friday's win over the Philadelphia Flyers. ... Washington had been 12-1-3 in its pervious 16 regular-season meetings vs. Pittsburgh.

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter:http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

It was a bit of a surprise to see Jakub Vrana in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers. On Saturday in practice, Barry Trotz mixed his lines up and it appeared that Vrana would be the odd-man out. On Sunday, however, when the team took to the ice for warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Vrana lined up on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Did the near scratch spark Vrana to more production? Not exactly.

RELATED: HERE'S WHY THE CAPS LOST TO PHILADELPHIA

Vrana played a career-low 6:25 against the Flyers. He had zero shot attempts or hits. There were only two stats on his stat line from the final box score: One giveaway and one drawn penalty.

Despite that, Trotz was complimentary of the 21-year-old forward following the game.

"What I like about Jake, he competed," Trotz said. "I know he doesn't have the minutes tonight, but he competed and that's what the message was. I met with him this morning and a little bit on the ice the other day and I just said the skill doesn't come out unless that level of desperation and compete is there night in, night out and then you'll have production. He didn't get a lot of ice time, but I was happy with his effort."

Trotz said Vrana's ice time was low because he the team was "hard matching" later in the game against Philadelphia. It was not because of how he played.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-FLYERS

But ultimately, the key is to get Vrana producing again and the fourth line is not the best place to spark that. Vrana has only one point in his last 12 games which is why it seemed to make sense that he would be a healthy scratch on Sunday. For a player with his offensive skill, it is harder for him to make an impact on that back line given the limited minutes and the more defensive role. Ultimately he has to play in the top-nine in order to reach his potential on a game by game basis.

If Trotz wanted to spark more compete and more effort from Vrana, the move to the fourth line may have done the trick. But did he play well enough to warrant moving back into the top-nine? That's the ultimate question.