PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby insists he didn’t draw any extra motivation going against the NHL’s other super rookie, Alexander Ovechkin, for the first time. He certainly looked like he did.

Crosby weaved through two defensemen to score during Pittsburgh’s four-goal first period, then helped hold off a frantic Washington Capitals rally with a no-look, spin-move pass to set up Ziggy Palffy’s second goal of the game in a 5-4 Penguins victory.

Playing before a standing room-only crowd of 16,978 energized by the first matchup of arguably the NHL’s two most anticipated rookies since Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Crosby didn’t disappoint – even if his team nearly did, almost squandering a 4-0 lead.

Ovechkin was limited to an assist on Matt Pettinger’s goal in the third period, but repeatedly flashed the skills that have allowed him to score 15 goals in 21 games – a remarkable pace for a rookie.

Ovechkin was stopped twice on 2-on-1 breaks and was turned aside by goalie Sebastien Caron on an excellent chance not long after Pittsburgh scored four goals in less than 10 minutes of the first period. Ovechkin repeatedly outskated Pittsburgh’s slower defensemen to get to the puck and start breaks the opposite way but, for now, is limited by the below-average talent that surrounds him.

But Crosby had the edge this night, showing why Penguins general manager Craig Patrick says he has seen no player since Gretzky and Lemieux who was so adept at age 18 at both scoring goals and creating them.

Not long after Palffy and Ric Jackman scored less than three minutes apart to make it 2-0 midway through the first, Crosby kicked Palffy’s pass onto his stick in the high slot, and made a move to free himself from both Brendan Witt and Steve Eminger. On what effectively was a 1-on-2 rush, Crosby put a backhander past goalie Olaf Kolzig and under the crossbar for his 11th goal in 22 games.

The goal he set up was even better.

With the Penguins trying to hold off the Capitals after Chris Clark and Brooks Laich scored 14 seconds apart to make it 4-2, Crosby collected the puck near the left wing boards. Then, in a single motion, he spun nearly 360 degrees to shed defenseman Jamie Heward and put a backhanded pass directly on Palffy’s stick in front of the net for Palffy’s ninth goal.

Pettinger and Brian Willsie scored in the third to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to a goal, but the Penguins held on despite being outshot 45-28 – 35-16 in the final two periods.

Crosby leads NHL rookies with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 22 games and is on a pace to match Lemieux’s 100-point rookie season in 1984-85, while Ovechkin has 22 points (15 goals, seven assists) in 21 games.

For comparison’s sake, Crosby’s scoring pace is higher than that of Martin St. Louis, who won the 2004 scoring championship for Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay with 94 points in 82 games. Ovechkin’s is close to it.

Notes: The Penguins scored four goals in the first period for the first time since Feb. 14, 2003, at New Jersey. … Caron stopped 41 of 45 shots. … Pittsburgh won for only the second time in six home games. … The Capitals have lost nine of 11 on the road.

AP-ES-11-22-05 2216EST

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