Washington at Pittsburgh Preview: Capitals Visit The Steel City For The First Time In 2019-20

Joe Sargent:Getty ImagesPhoto: Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third of four meetings between the two teams this season. The two split the first two games in Washington in February with the Penguins winning 4-3 on February 2 before the Capitals took a 5-3 decision three weeks later. Action from PPG Paints Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NHL Network nationally beginning at 1 PM ET.

Capitals

The Capitals continue a three-game northeast road swing after opening it with a wild 6-5 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The loss at Madison Square Garden marked the Capitals’ fifth loss in six road games, where they have gone 1-4-1. However, the Capitals’ 22-10-2 road record is the second-best in the NHL this season behind only the Colorado Avalanche (23-10-2). They have scored nine goals in their past two road games after scoring five in their previous four but have allowed 57 goals in their past 16 on the road and have given up at least three in each of their six last straight road outings, yielding 21 in that stretch.

The Capitals have dropped two in a row (0-1-1), three out of four, and are 14-14-2 since December 23. They have allowed at least three goals in 10 straight games, where they have allowed a total of 36, and in 15 of their last 17, where they have allowed 64. They enter Saturday afternoon tied with the Philadelphia Flyers atop of the Metropolitan Division and fifth in the NHL. They have scored 25 goals in their past eight games, averaging 3.13 per game over that stretch. The team is 9-13-1 against Metropolitan Division this season and have been outscored 71-65.

With a two-assist outing in New York on Thursday, defenseman John Carlson’s 60 assists rank fourth in the NHL this season while his 75 points in 67 games are twelfth. The 30-year-old has three helpers in his last three outings and two goals and 15 points in his last 16 but no goals in his last 11. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who has four goals in his past three games (both multi-goal games) after a two-goal outing at Madison Square Garden, is tied with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league-lead with 47 goals. The 34-year-old has seven goals and eight points in his last eight games, which followed a three-game point drought.

The Capitals’ average of 3.42 goals-per-game trails only the Tampa Bay Lightning (3.48) and Toronto Maple Leafs (3.44) this season but their average of 3.10 goals-against per game is tied for the 12th-most and their average of 3.53 goals-against per game since December 23 is tied with the league-worst Detroit Red Wings for the worst in the NHL.

Their 19.6% power-play efficiency is slightly below the league average and their penalty kill efficiency of 82.8% dropped to fifth after going only 10-for-15 in the past three games. The Capitals’ average of 32 shots-per-game is tied with the Penguins for 11th while their average of 30.3 shots-against per game is tied with the San Jose Sharks for ninth. The Capitals’ 48.4% faceoff-winning efficiency is the fifth-lowest.

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 24-14-5 with an .896 save percentage and a 3.16 goals-against average this season, will likely start for the Capitals on Saturday afternoon. In 25 career games against the black and gold, the 30-year-old is 10-11-3 with a .909 save percentage, a 3.01 goals-against average, and two shutouts. He made 32 saves in the Capitals’ victory over the Penguins last week, his lone start against them this season.

Penguins

The Penguins start a two-game homestand, a set of back-to-backs, and a stretch where play 10 straight games and 14 of 15 against Metropolitan Division opponents, including another game against the Capitals in Pittsburgh on March 22. They have gone 7-1-1 in their past nine at PPG Paints Arena, where they are 23-6-4 this season for the fourth-best home record in the NHL. Those 23 wins trail only the Flyers for the most in the NHL.

After a season-long six-game losing streak, the Penguins have won two in a row, though over the lowly Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres. They have scored 11 goals in their past two games after scoring eight over their skid. Before Thursday’s 4-2 win at the Sabres, the Penguins allowed at least three goals in three straight games and 27 over their previous seven (an average of 3.86 per game). They enter Saturday afternoon’s contest only three points behind the Capitals and Flyers for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand on each.

Center Evgeni Malkin leads the Penguins with 48 assists and 69 points in only 52 games this season. The 33-year-old has notched six assists over the past two games and three goals and 11 points in the last seven. Center Bryan Rust, who has three goals and four points in his last two games, leads the team with 27 goals this season. Besides Malkin (1.33) and Rust (1.04), center Sidney Crosby (1.18) and forward Jake Guentzel (1.10), who is out for the rest of the regular season due to shoulder surgery which he underwent on December 31, have averaged above a point-per-game for the Penguins.

The team was busy on NHL Trade Deadline day as it acquired forward Patrick Marleau, who has an assist and a +3 rating in five games since being dealt from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick; forward Conor Sheary, who has a goal, two points, and a -1 rating after being picked up from the Sabres along with forward Evan Rodrigues, who has a no points and -1 rating since the deal, in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun.

The Penguins’ average of 2.77 goals-against per game is currently tied with the New York Islanders for the eighth fewest in the NHL this season while their average of 3.21 goals-per-game is tenth. Their 20.5% power-play efficiency is at the league-average while their 82.4% penalty-killing rate is eighth. The Penguins’ average of 29.8 shots-against per game is the fifth-fewest. Their 48.5% faceoff-winning percentage is the sixth-worst but slightly ahead of the Capitals.

Head coach Mike Sullivan did not reveal his starting goaltender on Friday. Goaltender Matt Murray, who is 19-10-5 with a .900 save percentage, a 2.83 goals-against average, and one shutout this season, started the first two games against the Capitals, allowing seven goals on 54 shots-against (.870 save percentage). In 13 career games against the Capitals, the 25-year-old is 8-5-0 with an .887 save percentage and a 3.56 goals-against average. Goaltender Tristan Jarry, who is 20-11-1 with a .924 save percentage (ninth in the NHL this season), a 2.31 goals-against average (tied with Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues for seventh), and three shutouts (tied for seventh), has never started against the Capitals in his career.

Shavings

  • Carlson enters Saturday two assists shy of recording the most assists by a Capitals’ defenseman in a single season (Scott Stevens: 61 in 1988-89)
  • Ovechkin has recorded 35 goals and 59 points in 58 career games vs. the Penguins
  • With Thursday’s two-goal effort, Ovechkin has scored 358 career regular-season goals on the road (358 goals in 574 games), trailing only Gretzky (402) and Steve Yzerman (362); Ovechkin has scored 50.8% of his career regular-season goals on the road (358 of 705), the most of any member of the 700-goal club
  • With 60 assists through 67 games, Carlson became the 10th defenseman since 1979-80 to record 60 assists within 67 games
  • Forward Ilya Kovalchuk recorded three points (one goal) against the Rangers on Thursday, marking his first goal as a Capital and his second three-point game of the season (10/8 at Calgary Flames as a member of the Los Angeles Kings)
  • The trio of Kovalchuk, Carl Hagelin, and Lars Eller has combined for a 52.56 shot attempt percentage (41 shot attempts for, 37 against) and a 56.10 shots for percentage (23 shots for, 18 against) at five-on-five
  • This season, the Capitals have outscored opponents by 12 goals (117-105) on the road and rank second in the NHL in road goals (Maple Leafs: 122)
  • With an assist against the Rangers on Thursday, Eller recorded his 39th point of the season (16 goals), establishing a new career-high in points
  • Of forward Tom Wilson‘s 21 goals this season, 12 have been scored in the third period, tied for the second-most on the Capitals (Ovechkin: 20; forward T.J. Oshie: 12); Wilson is one of four players who have scored at least four game-winning goals in the final 10 minutes of the third period and overtime
  • Hagelin has seven goals and 15 points in his last 20 games after posting one goal and nine points in his first 37
  • Forward Richard Panik has three goals and 12 points in his last 20 games after recording just five goals and eight points in his first 37

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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