Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will face off in the District of Columbia for the first time this season and for what will be the third and fourth time in seven games. After the Penguins swept the first series between the two teams with two overtime wins in Pittsburgh, they split the next series, with the Capitals winning the most recent game by a score of 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena just last Tuesday. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET on both Tuesday and Thursday. NBCSN will cover Tuesday’s game nationally for those outside of the DMV.
The Penguins start a four-game road trip on Tuesday night. They will visit the New York Islanders on Saturday and Sunday. The Penguins will have played either the Capitals or Islanders for 10 straight games when the road trip comes to a close. After earning just one win in their first seven road games of the season (1-5-1), the Penguins won their last road game by a score of 4-3 at the Islanders.
The Penguins head into Tuesday’s slate in a logjam in the East Division as they are barely hanging onto the final Stanley Cup Playoff seed. They are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers and Islanders for third and are just two points behind the Capitals for second but have the worst goal differential (-2) out of the three teams (Flyers and Islanders each have an even goal differential.
Captain Sidney Crosby and forward Bryan Rust lead the Penguins with six goals, nine assists, and 15 points in 16 games this season. Crosby, 33, has recorded three goals and eight points in his past eight games, including two assists against the Islanders on Saturday in the 1000th NHL game of his career. He posted a goal and two points against the Capitals on February 14 in a 6-3 Penguins win. Since a three-game point streak ended where he recorded three goals and six points, including two goals and three points against the Capitals on February 14, Rust, 28, has been held off of the scoresheet in two of his past three games.
Despite all of the star power up front with Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ average of 3.00 goals-per-game this season is tied with the Vegas Golden Knights for the league average while their 14.9% power-play efficiency ranks 25th. Their average of 3.31 goals-against per game is the seventh-most and their 74% penalty-killing efficiency is the sixth-highest. The Penguins’ average of 29.3 shots-per-game ranks 23rd and 29.1 shots-against per game is 13th. Their 51% faceoff-winning percentage is 13th.
The Penguins’ five-on-five Corsi-for percentage of 52.03% ranks sixth while their 48.85% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage is 22nd and their 51.88% scoring chances-for percentage at five-on-five is 11th. Their .903 five-on-five team save percentage is only better than the Ottawa Senators (.885) and Vancouver Canucks (.900) this season after trading goaltender Matt Murray.
The Capitals will close out a five-game homestand against the Penguins on Thursday after going 2-1-0 in the first three games, including a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. The team has a solid 6-3-1 record at Capital One Arena.
After dropping four consecutive games in regulation, the Capitals have won three out of their last four games to stay within range of the Boston Bruins for first in the East Division. They are three points behind the Bruins, who have a game in hand on them, and have a two-point cushion for second place. The Capitals have allowed at least three goals in two straight games and in eight of their last 10.
Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals in goals (eight), assists (14), and point (22). He enters Tuesday just one point shy of 950 in his career. He is also two assists shy of 700 in his career. After his five-game point streak where he recorded three goals and seven goals ended against the New York Rangers on Saturday, the 33-year-old posted two assists against the Devils on Sunday. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored in Sunday’s win, has averaged more than a point per game this season with 15 points in 13 games this season.
The Capitals’ average of 3.35 goals-per-game is tied with the Montreal Canadiens for eighth in the NHL this season but their average of 3.41 goals-against per game is the fourth-highest. Their 33.3% power-play efficiency is tied with the Dallas Stars for second but their 79.3% penalty kill is slightly below the league average. The Capitals’ average of 29.5 shots-per-game this season is tied for the Devils for 20th but their 30.6 shots-against per game is the 12th-highest. Their 46.8% faceoff-winning percentage ranks 27th.
The Capitals’ 48.87% Corsi-for percentage at five-on-five this season ranks 20th while their 49.56% expected goals-for percentage is 20th. Their 50% scoring chances-for percentage is tied for the Devils for 17th but their .9134 save percentage is the 10th-worst.
Penguins – Tristan Jarry, 25 (5-5-1, .892 save percentage, 3.30 goals-against average this season), and Casey DeSmith, 29 (4-1-0, .885 save percentage, 2.84 goals-against average). In two starts against the Capitals this season, the only two appearances he has made against them in his career, Jarry allowed six goals on 73 shots (.918 save percentage). DeSmith is 2-1-0 with an .873 save percentage and a 2.92 goals-against average in three career appearances against the Capitals.
Capitals – Ilya Samsonov, 25 (1-0-1, .868 save percentage, 3.36 goals-against average this season), and Vitek Vanecek, 25 (7-4-2, .907 save percentage, 2.92 goals-against average). In two career games against the Penguins, Samsonov is 0-1-1 with an .883 save percentage and a 3.40 goals-against average, including a 24-save performance in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins on January 17. Vanecek has gone 1-1-1 with an .892 save percentage and a 3.32 goals-against average against the Penguins this season.
By Harrison Brown