The Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third meeting of the season between the two teams. The Capitals have gone 1-0-1 in the first two meetings, falling 7-6 in Pittsburgh’s home opener on October 4 and beating the Penguins 2-1 at home on November 7. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBCSN as part of Wednesday Night Hockey starting at 8 PM.
Pittsburgh plays the first game of a back-to-back in Washington on Wednesday night. After tomorrow’s game against the Capitals, the Penguins will immediately fly back to Pittsburgh, where they will play their second game in less than 24 hours as they host the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Since November began, the Penguins are 2-5-3 away from PPG Paints Arena, including the 2-1 loss in Washington five weeks ago. One of those wins came in a shootout. In addition, they have only won six of 15 road games this season, going 6-5-4 on the road. They enter Wednesday’s game just outside of the playoff picture, but are tied with the New York Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division. New York has played one game fewer than Pittsburgh has, thus owns the tiebreaker. Pittsburgh lost their most recent game, 4-2 to the Anaheim Ducks at home on Monday.
Forwards Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin are tied for the team lead with 36 points. Crosby, 31, leads the team with 15 goals and Malkin, 32, leads the team with 25 assists, but his -14 rating is in a six-way tie for the seventh-worst in the entire league. Malkin led the team with 42 goals and 98 points a season ago.
Since the Capitals last faced the Penguins, Pittsburgh has made a few trades, the most notable having acquired forward Tanner Pearson, who has tallied four goals and six points in 17 games with Pittsburgh, from the Los Angeles Kings, in exchange for forward Carl Hagelin. They also acquired defenseman Marcus Pettersson, who has a +2 rating in his first eight games in a Pittsburgh uniform, from the Ducks in exchange for forward Daniel Sprong.
Goaltender Casey DeSmith, who is 10-6-4 with a save percentage of .923, a goals-against average of 2.24, and two shutouts, will likely start against the Capitals on Wednesday night. He made 20 saves in the 2-1 loss to the Capitals on November 7, his only start in his career against Washington. The 27-year old netminder appears to be the Penguins’ starter now as he has appeared in 23 games while Matt Murray has only appeared in 12 and got pulled four times.
The Capitals aim for their sixth consecutive win as they continue a three-game homestand. They opened it with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, their second shootout win in as many nights after they beat the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena 6-5 on Friday night.
Captain Alex Ovechkin set a career-high point-streak of 14-games with a goal against the Sabres on Saturday. During the stretch, the 33-year old has posted 17 goals and 23 points. Ovechkin also has 10 goals on a six-game goal-scoring streak, including two hat tricks. He can be the first player in the NHL to hit 30 goals this season with a goal against the Penguins on Wednesday. Ovechkin has scored in each of the first two meetings with the Penguins this season. He was named the NHL’s first star of last week.
Forward Andre Burakovsky has found himself in the press box the past three games and it’s unclear whether he’ll play on Wednesday either. His eight points are tied for the fourth-worst on the team and his -5 rating is the third-worst. Burakovsky’s 10 career points against the Penguins are the most he’s posted against a single franchise. However, it’s hard to get him into the lineup with the Capitals’ fourth-line of center Travis Boyd (three goals, four points in the past five games), forward Nic Dowd (five assists in the past four games, and forward Dmitrij Jaskin (two points in his last three games), humming.
The Capitals’ 3.72 goals-per-game average ranks second in the NHL only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s average of 4.00 after scoring 18 goals in the past four games. Their top-four leading scorers all average at least one point per game: Ovechkin (1.34), center Nicklas Backstrom (1.25), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (1.19), and defenseman John Carlson (1.13). Backstrom and Carlson co-lead the team with each other with 16 points on the power-play while Kuznetsov (15) and Ovechkin (12) are right behind them. Ovechkin leads the team with eight power-play goals. The Capitals’ power-play enters Wednesday’s game ranked fifth in the NHL with an efficiency of 26.3%.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 13-7-2 with a save percentage of .910, a goals-against average of 2.90, and two shutouts this season, will likely start for the Capitals against Pittsburgh. Lifetime against the Penguins, the 29-year old is 9-9-3 with a save percentage of .910 and a goals-against average of 3.00.
-Kuznetsov extended his assist streak (nine) to a team-high eight games on Saturday against the Sabres; he is now one game shy of tying the franchise record set by both Bengt Gustafsson (1985-86) and Dave Christian (1986-87) for most consecutive games with an assist
-The Capitals are 12-2-0 in their last 14 games and have recorded at least three goals in 14 straight games for the first time since January 5, 2010, through March 4, 2010 (23 games)
-In 54 games against the Penguins, Ovechkin has 58 points (35 goals), leading all active NHL players in goals and points against the Penguins
-The Capitals hold a 4-0-0 record when they are featured on Wednesday Night Hockey and are 5-1-0 overall on Wednesdays, the most wins they have on any single day of the week this season
A Look Back In Time
After the Capitals fell behind 3-1 in the Second Round Series against the Penguins, they won 4-2 on Derby Day in May at Verizon Center. The Capitals got goals from Burakovsky, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin in the win. The Capitals scored three times in the final frame to force a Game 6 on enemy soil, including two goals in a span of 27 seconds to force Game 6. Holtby made 20 saves in the win.
By Harrison Brown