Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins meet up for the second time this season at Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon. Both teams will be on the back end of back-to-back contests. The Penguins have won the past three games between the two teams, including a 4-3 decision in Washington three weeks ago. Action from Chinatown can be seen on NBC beginning at 12 noon ET.
The Penguins open a four-game road trip in the District on Sunday afternoon, heading to California for three games in four nights after clashing with the Capitals. They also wrap up a set of back-to-backs after falling to the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 5-2 on home-ice. The Penguins are 15-11-2 away from PPG Paints Arena and have dropped four of their last seven on the road, going 3-4-0 in that stretch. They have allowed at least three goals four times in their last five road games.
A five-game point-streak (4-0-1) propelled the Penguins into a tie for first place in the Metropolitan Division and third in the Eastern Conference with the Capitals, but since then they have dropped two straight in regulation to teams currently outside of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot by a combined score of 9-2. They scored 14 goals in their previous three games. The Penguins were 6-1-1 in their previous eight games before dropping two in a row.
Center Evgeni Malkin leads the Penguins in assists (40) and points (60) in 46 games this season. A two-goal outing against the Sabres snapped a three-game pointless streak where he had a -2 rating. Prior to that, the 33-year-old recorded three goals and eight points on a five-game point streak.
Forward Bryan Rust leads the team with 23 goals in 45 games this season but has been held off of the scoresheet in eight of nine games this month. Malkin (1.30 – tied for seventh), Rust (1.04 – 21st), and captain Sidney Crosby (1.25 – tied for tenth) all rank among the top-21 in points-per-game).
Forward Jake Guentzel, who is out for the rest of the regular season with shoulder surgery and has been out since December 30, ranks 19th with an average of 1.10. After getting acquired from the Minnesota Wild, forward Jason Zucker has three goals and four points in five games with the Penguins and 17 goals, 33 points, and an even rating in 50 games this season.
The Penguins’ average of 3.25 goals-per-game ranks eighth in the NHL this season while their average of 2.72 goals-against per game is seventh. Their 21.5% power-play efficiency is currently tied with the Wild for 11th while their 81.7% penalty-killing rate is tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for 11th as well. The Penguins’ average of 31.9 is 12th while their average of 30.2 shots-against per game is the ninth-fewest. Their 48.4% faceoff-winning percentage is tied with the Wild for the fifth-worst.
After goaltender Tristan Jarry made 21 saves in the team’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres on Saturday, Matt Murray, who is 17-8-5 with a .903 save percentage, a 2.80 goals-against average, and one shutout this season, will start in goal for the Penguins on Sunday. In 12 career regular-season games against the Capitals, the 25-year-old is 8-4-0 with an .892 save percentage and a 3.51 goals-against average. He made 29 saves in the Penguins’ 4-3 win in Washington earlier this month.
The Capitals continue a stretch where they play three of four games at home and open a short two-game homestand on Sunday. They have lost three straight at home, going 0-2-1 in that stretch, and have been outscored by a total of 16-8 in that span. In addition, they are 1-4-1 at home since returning from the NHL All-Star Break and have allowed at least four goals in all of those losses. The Capitals are 16-9-5 at Capital One Arena this season.
The Capitals seek to end a four-game losing streak where they are 0-3-1 and a stretch where they have dropped eight of their last 11, going 3-7-1. They are coming off of a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, the third time in the last four games where they have been held to two goals at most. They have also allowed at least three goals in each of those four games. Since their season-long six-game winning streak ended in December, the Capitals are 11-12-1, allowing the Penguins to make the race towards first place in the division a lot more interesting.
Captain Alex Ovechkin scored the 700th goal of his NHL career on Saturday against the Devils and has two in as many games after a season-long five-game goal drought. The 34-year-old has crept to within one goal of Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for the league-lead in goals (43). Defenseman John Carlson, who tied Calle Johansson for the franchise record in points (361) by defensemen on Saturday, leads the Capitals with 71 points this season while his 56 helpers are behind only Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl on the league leader board. The 30-year-old has two goals and 11 points but a -4 rating in his last 10 games.
The Capitals’ average of 3.44 goals-per-game are the fifth-highest in the NHL this season but are at the league average with a 3.03 goals-against per game and have allowed at least three in 10 of their past 13, yielding 46 (an average of 3.54) over that stretch. Their 20.5% power-play efficiency is also at the league average but their 83.7% penalty-killing rate is fourth. The Capitals’ average of 32.1 shots-per-game is 11th, slightly ahead of the Penguins, while their average of 29.9 shots-against per game is the seventh-fewest. Their 48.3% faceoff-winning percentage is the fourth-worst, slightly worse than the Penguins.
After goaltender Ilya Samsonov made 26 saves in Saturday’s loss to the Devils, goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 21-13-5 with an .896 save percentage and a 3.14 goals-against average, will start against the Penguins on Sunday. He has allowed at least three goals in each of his last three starts. In 24 career games against the Penguins, the 30-year-old is 9-11-3 with a .901 save percentage, a 3.01 goals-against average, and two shutouts. This will be his first start against the black and gold this season.
- The Capitals hold a 5-2-1 record in the second half of back-to-back games this season and a 2-0-0 record following a loss in the first game
- Ovechkin has an NHL-best 0.59 goals-per-game rate since his 30th birthday on Sept. 17, 2015
Holtby enters Sunday one shutout shy of passing Olie Kolzig (35) for the most shutouts in Capitals’ history
By Harrison Brown