Photo: NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Capitals take on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final time in the regular season when the two teams clash at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night. After the Penguins took a 7-6 overtime thriller on October 4 in their home opener, the Capitals responded with a 2-1 victory at Capital One Arena on November 7. Despite outplaying the Penguins in the most recent meeting between the two on December 19 at Capital One Arena, Pittsburgh won 2-1. Action from the Steel City can be seen on NBC Sports Washington or NBCSN for those outside of the DMV beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Capitals begin a four-game Eastern Conference road trip, their longest inner-conference road trip since they had a five-game East coast road trip in 2015-16, which they went 3-1-1 on. They have won six of their last eight on the road after dropping four straight away from home when they were outscored by a combined total of 24-10. Overall this season, the Capitals are 20-12-2 away from Capital One Arena.
With a win against the Penguins on Tuesday, the Capitals can set a season-high with their eighth straight win. In addition, the Capitals have won nine of their last 10 and are 14-5-0 since returning from their bye-week. They had lost seven straight games (0-5-2) before the bye week. During the winning streak, the Capitals have outscored their opponents 28-14, including 6-1 the past two games. Entering Monday, the Capitals had a four-point advantage over the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, though they have played one more game than the Islanders have.
Captain Alex Ovechkin enters Tuesday’s game needing one point for the 1200th of his career. The 32-year-old leads the NHL with 46 goals and the Capitals with 77 points in 68 games this season, though he has been held off of the scoresheet in each of the past two games. Defenseman John Carlson leads the Capitals with 50 assists this season in 68 games and is riding a three-game assist streak, where he has recorded three assists.
The Capitals have scored at least three goals in each of their past three games and in six of the seven on their current winning streak. The club’s average of 3.38 goals-per-game is seventh in the NHL and fourth in the Eastern Conference while their power-play efficiency of 21.8% is 10th in the league. They boast four players with at least 60 points this season: Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom (65), and center Evgeny Kuznetsov and Carlson (60).
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 26-16-4 with a save percentage of .910, a goals-against average of 2.88, and three shutouts this season, will likely start against the Penguins on Tuesday. In his career against the Pens, the 29-year old is 9-10-3 with a save percentage of .911, a goals-against average of 2.96, and two shutouts. He made 34 saves in the Capitals’ 7-6 loss in Pittsburgh on October 4.
The Penguins are fighting with the Carolina Hurricanes for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division as they enter Tuesday two points up on the Hurricanes, though they have played one more game than the Hurricanes have. They are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and 9-3-2 in their past 14.
The Penguins conclude a short two-game homestand on Tuesday after ending the Boston Bruins’ 19-game point-streak (where they went 15-0-4) with a 4-2 victory on Sunday. They are 20-12-2 at PPG Paints Arena this season. The Penguins have won their past three home games.
Captain Sidney Crosby’s 57 assists are tied with Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for sixth in the NHL this season while his 88 points are fourth. His +22 rating is second on the Penguins behind defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s +28, which is sixth in the NHL. The 31-year old has points in 13 of his past 15 games (eight goals, 27 points). His 31 goals this season are only behind linemate Jake Guentzel’s 34 for the team lead.
The Penguins’ average of 3.42 goals-per-game is the fifth-highest in the NHL this season while their power-play efficiency of 24.7% is sixth. Their average of 33.5 shots-against per game average is tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the third-highest in the league.
The Penguins’ depth on the blueline has been tested as of late with Kris Letang, who has missed the past seven games, and Justin Schultz have each missed significant time recently with an upper-body injury and a fractured leg respectively, though their defense has only given up an average of 3.01 goals-per-game this season, 16th in the NHL. Defensemen Zach Trotman, Juuso Rikola, and Chad Ruhwedal have been getting playing significant roles for this team lately although the Penguins acquired Erik Gudbranson from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward Tanner Pearson at the trade deadline to bolster their defensive depth.
Goaltender Matt Murray, who is 23-11-3 with a save percentage of .917, a goals-against average of 2.77, and four shutouts this season, will likely start against the Capitals on Tuesday. In his career against the Caps, the 24-year old is 6-4-0 with a save percentage of .885 and a goals-against average of 3.62, including a 30-save performance on opening night for the Penguins.
- Forward T.J. Oshie enters Tuesday two assists shy of 300 career assists
- The Capitals’ seven-game winning streak is the second time in franchise history the Capitals have recorded two seven-game win streaks in a season (7-0-0 from Nov. 30, 1992, through Dec. 12, 1992, and Feb. 9 through Feb. 23, 1993)
- In 55 games against the Penguins, Alex Ovechkin has 58 points (35 goals), leading all active NHL players in goals and points against the Penguins; Backstrom has 49 points (42 assists) in 45 games against Pittsburgh, the most assists among active players against the Penguins
A Look Back In Time
After a scoreless first period in Game 3 of the Second Round Series in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the two teams, Carlson opened the scoring for the Capitals on a power-play to start the second before the Penguins would get the next two. Forward Chandler Stephenson tied the game before Crosby would give the Pens their one-goal lead back. Down by one in the final frame, defenseman Matt Niskanen tied it once again 5:06 into the third to set the stage for Ovechkin batting the game-winner out of mid-air into the net after he hit the post on a two-on-one rush with Backstrom with 1:07 left in regulation to give the Caps the lead. The Capitals would hang on for a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead. Holtby made 19 saves in the win.
By Harrison Brown