Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon for the first meeting between the two teams this season and in nearly 11 months. The Penguins won three out of the four games in last year’s season series between the two teams with the Capitals’ lone win coming at home on November 7, 2018, by a score of 2-1. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC beginning at 12:30 PM ET.
After defeating the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-3 in overtime on Friday in their first game since before the NHL-All-Star break, the Penguins begin a three-game Eastern Conference road trip in Washington on Sunday. After five consecutive victories on the road in January, the Penguins have dropped two of their last three away from PPG Paints Arena. They are 13-9-2 on the road overall this season.
After getting swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by former Capitals head coach Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders, the Penguins are currently third in the Eastern Conference with 69 points, six behind the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division, despite missing center Sidney Crosby (missed 27 games, core muscle surgery), forward Jake Guentzel (has missed 13 games, shoulder surgery – out for regular season), forward Nick Bjugstad (has not played since November 15, core muscle surgery), center Evgeni Malkin (lower-body, missed 11 games), defenseman Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery, has missed last 24 games), forward Dominik Kahun (has missed last two games, concussion), and defenseman Justin Schultz (missed 16 games, lower-body injury) for significant periods of time. They have won three of their last four games and are 11-3-1 since the NHL’s holiday break.
Center Evgeni Malkin, who has five goals and 14 points in his last nine games, leads the Penguins with 37 assists and 53 points in 38 games this season. The 33-year old recorded a goal and three points against the Flyers on Friday. Forward Bryan Rust enters Sunday with a team-leading 22 goals in 37 games this season and has three goals and five points in his last four games, including a one-goal, two-point effort against the Flyers. He has nine goals and 20 points since the Christmas break. Malkin (1.39), Crosby and Rust (1.22), and Guentzel (1.10) have each averaged over a point-per-game this season. Over the summer, the Penguins lost forward Phil Kessel (traded to Arizona Coyotes), defenseman Olli Maatta (traded to Chicago Blackhawks), and center Matt Cullen (retirement) and acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk, who has just five goals, 16 goals, and a -5 rating in 42 games this season and is on the trade rumor mill once again as the NHL trade deadline approaches, in the Kessel deal; Kahun, who has 10 goals, 27 points, and a +9 rating in 48 games, from the Blackhawks in exchange for Maatta; and forward Brandon Tanev, who has 10 goals, 22 points, and a +1 rating after signing a six-year contract on July 1, via free agency after four seasons with the Winnipeg Jets.
The Penguins’ average of 3.31 goals-per-game is currently tied with the New York Rangers for the seventh-highest in the NHL this season while their average of 2.73 goals-against per game is tied with the St. Louis Blues for the seventh-fewest. Their 20.7% power-play efficiency is 11th in the NHL after losing Kessel while their 81.8% penalty-killing efficiency is tied with Kessel’s Coyotes for 11th. Their average of 32.1 shots-per-game is the 10th-highest in the league while their average of 29.8 shots-against per game is the fifth-fewest. Being without Crosby and Malkin for large portions of the season have led to struggles on the faceoff dot as their 48.5% faceoff-winning percentage is the seventh-worst in the league.
The Penguins have not named their starting goaltender for Sunday’s game but expect Tristan Jarry, who is third in the NHL with a .928 save percentage (Coyotes’ Darcy Kuemper, .929) and a 2.19 goals-against average (Capitals’ Ilya Samsonov: 2.12, Kuemper: 2.17), tied for second with three shutouts, and 17-8-1 this season, to get the net against the Capitals for the first time in his career on Sunday. He made 27 saves in the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime win against the Flyers on Friday.
The Capitals kick off a season-long four-game homestand against the Penguins on Sunday afternoon and continue a stretch where they play five of six at Capital One Arena. They were last in action on Friday night when they defeated the Ottawa Senators by a score of 5-3. The Capitals are 15-6-4 at home this season and had won two straight and four of five at home before losing their last home game to the Nashville Predators by a score of 5-4 on Wednesday.
After their worst performance of the season, a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils at home on January 11, the Capitals have won five of their last six and eight of their last 11 to gain some space for the Metropolitan Division crown, though the Penguins have one game in hand on them. They have scored at least four goals in each of their last five games but have also allowed 16 goals over that stretch including eight in the last two games.
Defenseman John Carlson is 10th in the NHL this season with 62 points and only one behind Edmonton Oilers centers Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid for the league-lead with 49 while his +18 rating is second on the Capitals behind only Radko Gudas (+22, tied with Predators defenseman Roman Josi for sixth) and tied for 14th in the league. He has recorded three two-assist outings in his last five games and has 14 helpers in his last 13 games after getting two assists against the Senators on Friday. Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s 37 goals this season are tied with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league-lead after he recorded 11 goals in his last five games, the most he has had in his career over a five-game span, including a two-goal effort against the Senators.
The Capitals’ average of 3.60 goals-per-game ranks fourth in the NHL this season while their average of 2.92 goals-against per game is currently tied with the Flyers for 11th. Their 20.5% power-play efficiency enters Sunday’s game tied with the Minnesota Wild for 12th but their 84% penalty-killing rate is second behind only the San Jose Sharks (86.9%). Their average of 32.3 shots-per-game is ninth while their average of 29.7 shots-against per game is the fourth-fewest, both slightly ahead of the Penguins.
Samsonov, who is 16-2-1 with a .925 save percentage (sixth in the NHL) and one shutout this season, will start for the Capitals on Sunday against the Penguins for the first time in his career. He made 25 saves against the Senators on Friday, when he became the fourth goaltender in NHL history to win 16 of his first 20 career games and the third rookie to win 11 straight games and the first since 1973-74.
- Defenseman Dmitry Orlov will play his 500th career game
- Ovechkin has tallied 35 goals and 59 points in 56 career games against the Penguins
- Center Nicklas Backstrom has posted 44 assists and 51 points in 46 career games against the Penguins
- Samsonov is the only goaltender in the NHL with fewer than four losses and at least 20 games played and has recorded a .706 quality start percentage – the percentage of starts a goaltender records a save percentage higher than the League average (.908) – which ranks third in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 games, trailing Kuemper (.760 qs%) and New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.714 qs%)
- This is the 12th straight year that the Capitals have played on Super Bowl Sunday and are 17-10-2 all-time on Super Bowl Sunday
- Forward Carl Hagelin has three goals and five points during a five-game point streak
By Harrison Brown