Pittsburgh At Washington Series Preview: Capitals And Penguins Battle For First

Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and Saturday for the final two games of the regular season between the two teams. The Penguins have won four out of the six games against the Capitals so far, but the Capitals have earned points in five contests (2-1-3), including three straight (2-0-1).

The Capitals beat the Penguins by a score of 5-2 at Capital One Arena in their last meeting on February 25. Both games can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally starting at 7 PM ET. NHL Network will also cover Saturday’s game nationally.

Penguins

The Penguins will open a four-game road trip, their last four road games of the year, on Thursday night, and will close the season with games on back-to-back nights against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday and Tuesday night. The Penguins have played just 12 road games out of 30 since the beginning of March but are 8-4-0 in those games and are 12-11-1 away from PPG Paints Arena compared to a league-best 20-4-2 at home.

Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins ended the Penguins’ four-game winning streak but the team is 26-10-4 since starting the season 6-5-1. Their hot streak has pulled them four points ahead of the New York Islanders for second in the East Division and just one point behind the Capitals for first, though Washington has a game in hand. The Penguins could clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff berth with a win and a loss by the New York Rangers to the Islanders on Thursday, which would be their league-long 15th consecutive appearance.

Captain Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins with 36 assists and 56 points in 49 games this season. The 33-year-old saw his four-game point-streak, where he posted three goals and six points, end against the Bruins on Tuesday, where he recorded a -3 rating. Forward Jake Guentzel leads the team with 21 goals and has also averaged more than a point-per-game (52 in 50). The 26-year-old also had a four-game point streak, where he recorded one goal and six points, come to an end on Tuesday, when he earned a -3 rating. Center Evgeni Malkin has not played since March 16 due to a lower-body injury but has been skating in a no-contact jersey since April 7. Center Jeff Carter, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a 2022 conditional third-round pick and a 2023 conditional fourth-round pick on April 12, has three goals, four points, and a +3 rating in eight games since the trade.

The Penguins’ average of 3.34 goals-per-game ranks fifth in the NHL this season while their average of 2.74 goals-against per game is tied with the Edmonton Oilers for 12th. Their 22.6% power play efficiency is eighth but their 77.8% penalty-killing rate is good for only 23rd. The Penguins’ average of 30 shots-per-game is currently tied with the Vancouver Canucks for 13th and 29.8 shots-against per game is just above the league average. Their 49.6% faceoff-winning percentage ranks 20th.

The Penguins’ 50.45% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage is currently 13th and 49.42% expected goals-for percentage is 18th. Their 51.39% scoring chances-for percentage ranks 11th. The Penguins’ 9.05% five-on-five shooting percentage is seventh and their .926 five-on-five save percentage is good for fourth. The team’s 1.016 PDO ranks fifth.

Capitals

The Capitals conclude a three-game homestand on Saturday after opening it with a 1-0 win over the Islanders. The Capitals are 10-3-1 in their last 14 at Capital One Arena but have alternated wins and losses in four home games during the month of April since an 8-1-1 stretch at home. The Capitals are 15-6-2 on home ice this season. Five of the Capitals’ last seven games of the season are at home.

After going 5-5-0 in a 10-game stretch and sweeping a three-game series against the Islanders, the Capitals are 7-2-0 in their last nine games and reclaimed the top spot in the division with Tuesday’s victory and the Penguins’ loss. The Capitals could clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff berth with a win of any kind and a loss of any kind by the Rangers on Thursday. They have seven regular-season games remaining.

Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals with 34 assists and 48 points in 49 games this season. The 33-year-old has just three assists in his past five games after his three-game point streak ended. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who leads the team with 24 goals this season, remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury and did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. Defenseman Justin Schultz, who is also day-to-day with a lower-body injury, also missed Wednesday’s skate. Forward Daniel Sprong has scored three goals in two games while taking Ovechkin’s spot on the top-line.

The Capitals’ average of 3.43 goals-per-game trails just the Colorado Avalanche (3.52) this season but their average of 2.90 goals-against per game ranks 18th. The team’s 26.3% power-play efficiency trails only the Carolina Hurricanes (27.7%) and their 82.9% penalty-killing rate ranks eighth. The Capitals’ average of 28.8 shots-per-game is currently tied with the Islanders for 25th but their average of 29 shots-against-per-game is good for 11th. The team’s 49% faceoff-winning percentage ranks 22nd.

The Capitals’ 50% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage this season is the league average and their 50.63% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage is slightly above. Their 50.67% scoring chances-for percentage is currently 13th. The team’s 10.62% five-on-five shooting percentage leads the NHL and their .9183 five-on-five save percentage ranks 18th. The Capitals’ 1.024 PDO trails only the Minnesota Wild (1.03).

Goaltending

Penguins – Tristan Jarry, 25 (21-9-3, .911 save percentage, 2.71 goals-against average, one shutout), and Casey DeSmith, 29 (11-6-0, .913 save percentage, 2.42 goals-against average, two shutouts). Jarry is 2-2-0 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average in four career games against the Capitals, all this season. He made 30 saves in the Penguins’ 5-2 loss to the Capitals on February 25 in the last meeting between the two teams. DeSmith is 2-1-0 with an .873 save percentage and a 2.92 goals-against average in three career games against the Capitals, including 42 saves on 49 shots (.857 save percentage) in two games against the Capitals this season.

Capitals – Ilya Samsonov, 25 (13-3-1, .903 save percentage, 2.67 goals-against average, two shutouts), and Vitek Vanecek, 25 (18-9-3, .910 save percentage, 2.68 goals-against average, two shutouts). Samsonov stopped 24 of 27 shots in the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout victory over the Capitals on January 17 in his lone appearance against them this season and is 0-1-1 with an .883 save percentage and a 3.40 goals-against average in two career games against Pittsburgh. Vanecek has gone 2-1-2 with a .905 save percentage and a 2.98 goals-against average against the Penguins this season, including a 26-save performance in the Capitals’ 5-2 win last time they played the Penguins.

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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1 Response to Pittsburgh At Washington Series Preview: Capitals And Penguins Battle For First

  1. Anonymous says:

    This will be interesting. So many days between games between these two teams means you can almost throw out the stats from the previous six meetings. It’s difficult to tell how good each team really is, but Caps sweeping aisles is a good sign. A decent chance Caps are better team by a decent margin.

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