The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will start the week with their first tw0-game series against one another this season. The Capitals took two out of three from the Penguins a season ago, including a 5-2 win in the Steel City in their final victory of the regular season on March 6. Action from PPG Paints Arena on Sunday will begin at 12 noon ET and can be seen nationally on NBC. Tuesday’s game can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or on NBCSN nationally at 7 PM ET.
The Capitals look to build off of a 2-0-0 start to the season after taking both games in their series against the Buffalo Sabres. They will play the final games of a four-game road trip to begin the season in Pittsburgh. The Capitals owned a league-best 23-10-3 road record last season. Tuesday’s game will be the final road game for a while as the Capitals will play six straight games at home following their series with the Penguins.
Forward Jakub Vrana has started the season with goals in back-to-back games a season after setting career-highs in goals (25), assists (27), and points (52) despite playing only 69 games. The 24-year-old has seen his goal, assist, and point production increase in each of his four NHL seasons. Forward T.J. Oshie recorded a three-point night, where he had two goals, in the team’s season-opening 6-4 win on Thursday night. Center Nicklas Backstrom posted one goal and three points in the series vs. the Sabres.
Defenseman Justin Schultz, who signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent, and forward Conor Sheary, who signed a one-year, $735,000 contract with the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent, both return to Pittsburgh for the first time since leaving the Penguins in the offseason. Both were on the Penguins’ teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. Schultz, who recorded a +3 rating, a 42.5% Corsi-for percentage, and a 41.91% expected goals-for percentage in his first two games as a Capital, posted 22 goals, 91 points, and a +43 rating in 243 games over parts of five seasons with the Penguins. Sheary, who earned an assist in his Capitals’ debut on Thursday, posted 49 goals, 97 points, and a +24 rating in 192 games over parts of four seasons with the Penguins.
In their first two games, the Capitals have recorded eight goals-for and five goals-against. They have converted on one of their two power-plays, both earned in Thursday’s game, and have gone seven-for-eight on the penalty kill, including five-for-five in Friday’s 2-1 victory. The Capitals averaged 24.5 shots-per-game and 28.5 shots-against per game in their two games vs. the Sabres.
Unlike the Capitals, the Penguins did not start their season off on a good note, losing 6-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday and 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center again on Friday. The Penguins will play their first home game of the season and kick off a four-game homestand on Sunday. The New York Rangers will come into Pittsburgh for a two-game series next weekend. The Penguins owned the fourth-best home record in the NHL last season at 23-8-4.
After Pittsburgh limped into the NHL Pause with a league-worst 3-8-0, the break did not help them as they fell in four games to the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The Penguins made a lot of moves during the offseason, acquiring forwards Kasperi Kapanen (who recorded 13 goals, 36 points, an even rating in 69 games last season) in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colton Sceviour (six goals, 16 points, a +2 rating in 69 games) in a trade with the Florida Panthers, along with center Mark Jankowski (who recorded five goals, seven points, and a -12 rating in 56 games with the Calgary Flames) in free agency.
They also picked up defensemen Cody Ceci (who tallied one goal, eight points, a +7 rating, a 50.22% Corsi-for percentage, and a 50.87% expected goals-for percentage in 56 regular-season games with the Maple Leafs) in free agency and Mike Matheson (who recorded eight goals, 20 points, a -1 rating, a 49.75% Corsi-for percentage, and a 45.6% expected goals-for percentage in 59 regular-season games) in a trade with the Panthers.
Pittsburgh lost Schultz, Sheary, defenseman Jack Johnson (bought out), goaltender Matt Murray (traded to Ottawa Senators), forward Patric Hornqvist (traded to Panthers), center Nick Bjugstad (traded to Minnesota Wild), and forward Patrick Marleau (signed with San Jose Sharks as an unrestricted free agent).
Jankowski and forward Brandon Tanev lead the Penguins in both goals (two) and points (three) to kick off the regular season. Captain Sidney Crosby also has two goals. Those are the only three to find the back of the net for the Penguins and the team and only three others have gotten on the scoresheet (center Jared McCann: two assists, forwards Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel: one) so far this season. Defenseman Kris Letang tallied a -5 rating in the team’s first two games.
Despite scoring just five goals and allowing 11 in their first two games vs. the Flyers, the Penguins averaged 33.5 shots-for and 22.5 shots-against in the two games. The Penguins scored on two of their eight power-plays in their first two games but allowed three goals on nine penalty kills.
Assistant coach Todd Reirden will face his former team for the first time after the Capitals fired him as head coach on August 23 after back-to-back first-round exits. He runs the defense and power-play in Pittsburgh, the same responsibilities that he had under head coach Barry Trotz in Washington. Reirden spent six seasons with the Capitals, including two as an associate (2016-18), and won the Stanley Cup with the team in 2018. The Capitals were 89-46-13 in Reirden’s two seasons as head coach (third-best points percentage in the NHL: .642).
Capitals – Ilya Samsonov, 23 (1-0-0, .846 save percentage, 4.00 goals-against average), and Vitek Vanecek, 25 (1-0-0, .968 save percentage, 1.00 goals-against average). Samsonov stopped 29 of 33 shots in his lone career start against the Penguins, a 4-3 loss at Capital One Arena on February 2. Vanecek has never played a game vs. the Penguins in his career.
Penguins – Tristan Jarry, 25, (0-2-0, .710 save percentage, 7.57 goals-against average), and Casey DeSmith, 29 (0-0-0, .923 save percentage, 1.26 goals-against average). Jarry has never played a game vs. the Capitals in his four-season NHL career. DeSmith stopped 20 of 22 shots in his lone career start against the Capitals, a 2-1 loss at Capital One Arena on November 7, 2018.
By Harrison Brown