WASHINGTON -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are reeling as they prepare to renew their rivalry with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh (6-4-3) limps into the nation's capital having lost four straight (0-3-1) and being outscored 18-6 in the process.
Matt Murray stopped 23 of 27 shots before being pulled in the third period as the Penguins endured a 5-1 home loss to the New Jersey Devils, who had lost three straight themselves, on Monday night. The Penguins' goal came from defenseman Jamie Oleksiak in the first period.
"Obviously, we're concerned," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told NHL.com. "We don't want to lose four games in a row. In this particular point in the season, it's so early in the season, it's more about the process than anything. Right now, I think we're chasing the game."
On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Sullivan's search for answers led him to split up the power-play pairing of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in practice.
One power-play unit included Olli Maatta, Malkin, Phil Kessel, Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist. The other had Kris Letang, Jack Johnson, Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Dominik Simon, with Crosby in a new position, manning the left-half wall.
"Sometimes just like a line combination, if it gets a little stale and goes through some struggles, then sometimes just by splitting it up gives them a fresh look," Sullivan told the Post-Gazette. "It could possibly spark something."
The Penguins have scored just twice in their last 19 power-play chances.
"Our execution hasn't really been there as a whole consistently," Crosby told the Post-Gazette. "We've been guilty of maybe forcing plays or struggling in different areas. Whatever it is, we haven't been consistent."
The Capitals (also 6-4-3) did some line tinkering before Monday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers and it paid off.
Washington coach Todd Reirden dropped Jakub Vrana from the first line to a fourth line with Travis Boyd -- making his season debut -- and Devante Smith-Pelly. The trio accounted for two goals on their first two shifts in a 4-2 home win over the Oilers.
"I think we needed that win, and we knew they have a pretty good team," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told the Washington Post. "Obviously, I think tonight the (Boyd) line set the tone. Two shifts, two goals. It's pretty big."
Ovechkin added his 11th goal of the season and T.J. Oshie his seventh. Pheonix Copley stopped 31 shots for his second win of the season.
The Capitals will be trying to win consecutive games for the first time this season when they skate against the Penguins.
"You're always looking for consistency and at times here we've found it for stretches, for good stretches, and right now we're not really finding that consistency." Oshie said. "So we'll look to do that in our game and it starts with the start Wednesday night."
The Penguins won the teams' first meeting of the season 7-6 in overtime on Oct. 4 at PPG Paints Arena. Letang and Guentzel scored twice for Pittsburgh, and Oshie scored twice for Washington.
Braden Holtby is 8-9-3 with a 3.10 goals-against average and .906 save percentage against the Penguins. Murray is 5-4 with a 3.93 GAA and .875 save percentage versus Washington.
Ovechkin has 34 goals and 23 assists in 53 career games against the Penguins. Crosby has 20 goals and 45 assists in 46 games versus Washington, and Malkin has 19 goals and 41 assists in 41 games.