Then, after Washington made it 1-all, Crosby drew a penalty. And 11 seconds later, on Pittsburgh's third shot of the evening, Crosby put the puck in the net himself. Later, with the score again tied, Crosby had the secondary assist on Kunitz's second goal.
And finally, when Ovechkin and the Capitals had a power play for most of the last two minutes, Crosby was on the ice, helping kill off the chance.
"It was a very good game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said about Crosby. "All aspects."
Now there's an understatement.
"We saw a 5-on-5 play. We saw the speed (Crosby's line can) generate, and got the scoring chances," Bylsma added. "Used him in defensive situations, and (he) did a great job there on the penalty kill in the third."
Crosby finished with his 30th goal and two assists to raise his NHL-leading point total to 87, matching his uniform number. The Penguins beat Washington for the seventh consecutive time and overtook idle Boston for the Eastern Conference's best record.
The Capitals, who began the day outside of the playoff picture in 10th place in the East, have lost four of their past five games to fall into what Ovechkin called a "desperate position."
The teams play each other again Tuesday at Pittsburgh.
Monday's game featured the largely uneventful NHL debut of Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, a player Capitals general manager George McPhee likened to the Loch Ness Monster: "We've heard of you, but we haven't seen you." The winger was a first-round draft pick in 2010, but has been playing in Russia.
He signed a contract Saturday and got on the ice for the first time about two minutes into Monday's game, part of Washington's fourth line with Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle.
Wearing No. 92, Kuznetsov also got a bit of a run alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and even some power-play action. He took 12 shifts for 10 minutes, 22 seconds, took two shots and blocked one.
"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," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "He's never played in front of this many people, really. So for me, I want to ease him in."
Ovechkin, the three-time MVP who leads the NHL with 44 goals, was held without a point and was limited to four shots.
Pittsburgh went ahead 1-0 on its first shot, when Crosby slid the puck across the ice to left wing Kunitz. Easily gliding past defenseman Mike Green, Kunitz flipped his shot past Jaroslav Halak, still wearing an all-white goalie's mask in his second start for Washington after arriving last week in a trade.
Green, Oates said, "got caught a little flat-footed on the play, probably a little surprised at the end of the shift that Kunitz had that much juice."
The Capitals evened things less than 2 1/2 minutes later on Eric Fehr's 11th goal.
That tie did not last long: 38 seconds afterward, Backstrom was sent to the penalty box for slashing Crosby -- who soon made it 2-1 off Evgeni Malkin's assist.
"I don't take too many of those. It's nice to see one go in," Crosby said. "I'm usually a little closer when they go in."
The Capitals got to 2-all on Backstrom's power-play score at the 8:57 mark of the second period.
This tie was a short one, too, lasting a little more than 3 1/2 minutes. And, not surprisingly, Crosby was involved in Pittsburgh's goal again. He dropped a no-look pass back to Lee Stempniak, whose shot was kicked away by Halak, but Kunitz was there to poke in the rebound for his 31st goal.
Oates summed it up this way: "Their big dogs scored."
Pittsburgh went 3-2 on its season-high five-game road trip. ... Kuznetsov's appearance marked Washington's fourth game in a row in which a player made his debut with the club.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 skates past Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals while...