The Washington Capitals clash with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final time this season when the rivals faceoff at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Penguins have won two out of three against the Capitals so far this season, winning 3-2 at Capital One Arena on October 11 and 7-4 in Pittsburgh on February 2. Washington defeated Pittsburgh 4-1 on November 10 in D.C. The game will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network at 7:30. Game notes are here.
The Capitals’ five-game winning streak came to an end on Friday night when they fell 4-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena. Defenseman Michal Kempny recorded the lone goal in the win, tallying his first goal as a Capital. Kempny opened the scoring 2:35 into the middle frame, but the Hurricanes answered just 40 seconds later and scored four straight goals to stave off of elimination. Braden Holtby made 26 saves in the loss, the Capitals second in the last 10.
A win on Friday night would have given the Capitals, who clinched a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive season on Thursday, a chance to clinch the Metropolitan Division for the third consecutive season. They could still clinch the division with a win tomorrow if the Penguins fall to the Montreal Canadiens on home ice tonight in any fashion.
The Capitals announced Saturday afternoon that forward T.J. Oshie is traveling with the team to Pittsburgh. Oshie left the third period against the Hurricanes with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. He missed six games earlier this season with a concussion. Oshie recorded five goals and nine points in his previous nine games after going 19 consecutive games without a goal.
Alex Ovechkin will suit up in his 1000th NHL game on Sunday night in Pittsburgh. Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 45 goals and the Capitals with 83 points this season, will become the first player in franchise history to play 1000 games, all with the Capitals. The 2004 first-overall pick has tallied 603 career goals and 1118 career points.
The Capitals begin their final set of back-to-back set of games in 2017-18 against the Penguins on Sunday night. After Sunday’s contest at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals visit the St. Louis Blues for their final road game of the regular season on Monday night.
It’s unknown who will start in goal on Sunday night for the Capitals. Braden Holtby, who has been pulled in each of his last two regular season starts in Pittsburgh, is 32-16-4 with a save percentage of .907 and a goals-against average of 3.01. Lifetime against the Pens, Holtby is 8-9-2 with a save percentage of .911 and a goals-against average of 2.90. He has started the past two games and has won four of his past six appearances after losing six straight games for the first time in his career. Philipp Grubauer started eight of the last 10 games prior to sitting the past two games. He is 14-9-3 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against average. In three career outings against Pittsburgh, all relief appearances, Grubauer has a save percentage of .773 and a goals-against average of 5.92.
The Penguins will play the second of a back-to-back set of home games on Sunday night against Washington. Pittsburgh hosts the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
After a slow start to the year, Pittsburgh is five points behind Washington for first place in the division with each having played 78 games. The Penguins started out 20-19-3 in their first 42 games but went through a hot streak in January and February to propel them back into the postseason picture. They could clinch a playoff berth with a win of any sort against the Canadiens tonight for the 12th consecutive season, the longest active streak in the NHL.
The Penguins own the league’s best power play, which converts at a rate of 25.7%. Their power play has given the Capitals fits head-to-head all season; the Capitals have yielded six goals on 14 (57.1%) penalty killing situations in three games against the Penguins this season. On five-on-five during the season series, Washington has outscored Pittsburgh 8-5.
The Penguins own three of the top 10 scorers in the NHL this season. Evgeni Malkin sits third with 42 goals and 93 points respectively this season. Captain Sidney Crosby, who led the NHL with 42 goals last season, is ninth in the NHL with 57 assists and 10th with 85 points. Phil Kessel, who has tallied three goals and four points in the previous two meetings against the Caps, is tied with Crosby in points and is second on the Pens with 30 goals behind Malkin. Kessel’s 85 points this season is a career-high for the 30-year old right winger.
23-year old netminder Matt Murray will man the crease for Pittsburgh on Sunday night. He is 25-15-3 with a save percentage of .907 and a goals-against average of 2.91. In seven career outings against Washington, Murray is 4-3-0 with a save percentage of .876 and a goals-against average of 3.76. He has allowed at least three goals in six of those appearances against Washington.
-Seven different Capitals have established career high goal totals this season (Evgeny Kuznetsov: 25; Lars Eller: 18; John Carlson: 15; Tom Wilson: 13; Jakub Vrana: 13; Dmitry Orlov: 9; Chandler Stephenson: 6). Additionally, Brett Connolly, who has 15 goals this season, is one goal shy of setting a new single-season best.
-In 51 games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Ovechkin has 56 points (33 goals), leading all NHL players in goals and points against the Penguins
–Nicklas Backstrom has 47 points (40 assists) in 41 games against Pittsburgh, the most assists among active players against the Penguins.
-Evgeny Kuznetsov’s six-game streak of multi-point games came to an end against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 30. His streak ended with 13 points (five goals) in six games.
A Look Back in Time
On February 17, 2015, Alex Ovechkin tallied his league-leading 37th goal of the season on a breakaway on the power-play to open the scoring and also chipped in with an assist to power the Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the Penguins. Forward Joel Ward potted a beautiful pass from Nicklas Backstrom for the game-winning goal on a 5-on-3 power play with 4:13 remaining in the game. John Carlson added a shorthanded empty-net goal. The two teams combined for 68 penalty minutes (Penguins had 41) in the game. Braden Holtby made 32 saves in the win.
By Harrison Brown