The Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second meeting of the year between the two division rivals. The Penguins took the first meeting 7-6 on October 4 in Pittsburgh. The two teams have met in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past three seasons with the winner going on to win the Stanley Cup each time. NBC Sports Network will have the call on Wednesday Night Hockey starting at 7:30 PM from Capital One Arena.
After having their shortest offseason since 2015, the Penguins got off to a nice start, going 6-1-2 in their first nine games. Since the hot start, Pittsburgh has come back down to earth losing four consecutive games, going 0-3-1 in that span. They are coming off of consecutive blowout losses: 5-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and 5-1 to the New Jersey Devils on Monday, each coming at home.
The Penguins have yet to lose a road game in regulation this season, going 4-0-2 away from PPG Paints Arena but lost their most recent road game, 3-2 to the New York Islanders in a shootout this past Thursday.
Pittsburgh has a deadly offense, which ranks third in the NHL with an average of 3.54 goals per game. Only the Capitals (3.77) and Colorado Avalanche (3.71) average more goals per game than the Penguins this season. After scoring 42 goals and 98 points last season, center Evgeni Malkin leads the Penguins in scoring again this year with 20 points in addition to his seven goals, which is tied with forward Phil Kessel for the team lead with seven goals.
Center Derick Brassard, who the team acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline last season, has missed the past five games with a lower-body injury for the Penguins and missed practice again on Tuesday, so it seems highly unlikely that the 31-year old will suit up against the Capitals on Wednesday night. He was placed on retroactive injured reserve by the team. Defenseman Justin Schultz has missed nine straight games for Pittsburgh with a fracture in his left leg.
The team recalled forwards Zach-Aston Reese and Garrett Wilson from the AHL and re-assigned forward Derek Grant to Wilkes-Barry on Tuesday.
Goaltender Casey DeSmith was the first goalie off at the Pens’ morning skate, meaning that he will likely start against Washington on Wednesday night. DeSmith, 24, is 4-2-2 with a save percentage of .932 and a goals-against average of 2.25 in seven games this season. This will be his first career start against the Capitals.
The Capitals play the third game of a five-game homestand against the Penguins on Wednesday. After falling to the Dallas Stars by a score of 4-3 in overtime on Saturday night, the team bounced back nicely with a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. Washington has been a very good home team this season, going 4-2-1 while averaging 4.29 goals per game at Capital One Arena.
In addition to leading the league with a 3.77 goals per game average, the Capitals lead the league with an efficiency of 36.6%, 3.3% higher than the Winnipeg Jets, who rank second. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the league with six power-play goals and ten power-play points while forward Alex Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom, and defenseman John Carlson are right behind him with nine points each on the man advantage. Ovechkin is second on the team with five power-play goals.
Kuznetsov enters Wednesday’s game riding a four-game point streak, where he’s tallied a goal and five assists over that span. The 26-year old center had a fantastic series against the Penguins in the playoffs last season, when he recorded three goals, six points, and a +2 rating in the six-game series. Kuznetsov leads the Capitals with 18 points this season.
Ovechkin, 33, has also been hot as of late, coming into Wednesday’s game with seven goals and 10 points in his past eight games. One year after leading the NHL with 49 goals, the forward is tied for second in the league with San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patric Kane, and Colorado Avalanche forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan Mackinnon (11). Ovechkin has tallied 34 goals and 57 points in 53 career games against Pittsburgh, leading all NHL skaters in goals and points against the franchise.
Goaltender Braden Holtby will likely start against Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The 29-year old goaltender is 4-3-2 with a save percentage of .888 and a goals-against average of 3.62 this season. In his career against Pittsburgh, Holtby is 8-9-3 with a save percentage of .906 and a goals-against average of 3.10.
-the Capitals have been scoring on 48% of their power play opportunities at Capital One Arena (12 goals on 25 opportunities), 7.1% greater than the Jets, who rank second in the NHL in home power play percentage
-Backstrom has 48 points (41 assists) in 43 games against Pittsburgh, the most assists among active players against the Penguins; the Capitals will honor Backstrom before the game for his 600th career assist, which he achieved in a 5-2 over the Vancouver Canucks on October 22
-Since the 2014-15 season, the Capitals have a record of 116-40-15 at home, ranking first in the NHL both wins and points (247). During that span, the Capitals’ 546 goals for ranks fourth, while their 375 goals against rank first
A Look Back In Time
After a slow start to the game, Carlson scored on the power play and forward Brett Connolly followed 33 seconds later with a goal through the five-hole of Murray to push the Capitals ahead 2-1 entering the second period of Game 5. The Penguins scored two power-play goals from forwards Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist in the first eight minutes of the middle frame. After an abysmal second period, where they were outshot 18-5, Kuznetsov scored 50 seconds into the third period going five-hole on a breakaway to beat Murray. The game would remain scoreless until after Kuznetsov got the puck and sent Ovechkin the other way off of a rebound from Holtby following a save on defenseman Brian Doumolin. Ovechkin took it wide and fed forward Jakub Vrana with a yawning open net for a 4-3 lead with less than five minutes to go. Forwards T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller added empty-net goals in the final two minutes. The Capitals would take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series setting the stage for their Game 6 win in Pittsburgh two nights later, where they advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years. Holtby made 36 saves in the win.
By Harrison Brown