January 11, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) skates with the puck as Washington Capitals right wing Joel Ward (42) defends in the first period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals

Hey, remember when the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins had the most high profile rivalry in the NHL? It wasn’t that long ago, back when they played in something called the Winter Classic. It had its own TV show and everything.

While another sporting event will be on the minds of most TV watchers on Sunday, the Caps and Pens will renew acquaintances at the Verizon Center in front of a national audience. The question will be whether the bad blood will still be there, or if one team will be too busy concentrating on its own struggles to care.

That would be Washington, coming in off a win that was satisfying but far from convincing against Philadelphia on Friday night. There were some good things, sure, but it was a victory that was just as much about what the Flyers did wrong as it was about what the Caps did right.

The defense will be shuffled thanks to the suspension of John Erskine for his WWE-style elbow smash to Wayne Simmonds. Tom Poti gets the call to replace him on the blueline after what must have been a coin flip between him and Roman Hamrlik, both of whom have been healthy scratches more than they’ve played.

Braden Holtby will start his second straight game between the pipes in his first ever appearance against the Penguins. He was solid against the Flyers, and another win would certainly help cement the trite but true idea that the Capitals have “1” and “1A” options at goalie.

Pittsburgh shook off its slow start at home by giving New Jersey a 5-1 thrashing at the Consol Energy Center on Saturday. Tired legs could be a factor, but both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are starting to pick it up, and the Penguins have won four of their five road games so far.

A familiar face will await the Caps in the opposing goal, as Tomas Vokoun gets the nod. To the surprise of no one with a last name other than Fleury, he’s actually been the better of the two Pittsburgh goaltenders this season.

That might be bad news for Alex Ovechkin, who is due any game now to reach the point where everyone says he’s pressing. He at least looked more dangerous against Philly, getting himself into position to unload one-timers on numerous occasions. His effort was definitely there, as he threw checks with gusto and occasionally tried taking on the entire opposing team.

If there was ever a time for the Great 8 to start revving it back up, this game on the semi-big stage would be it.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals

Start time: 12:30 pm EST

Tags: Alex Ovechkin Braden Holtby Pittsburgh Penguins Washington Capitals

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