The Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins rivalry is nothing new, but it has developed a new twist. Tonight, the Capitals will face the visiting Penguins for the first time of four times this season. Any game featuring the Caps and Pens will garner attention, but tonight’s matchup is especially significant: it’s the first time the two teams have played as division rivals since the 1992-93 season.
The Penguins currently lead the Metropolitan Division with 26 points, and the Caps trail by one. The Penguins are 2-2-0 in their past four games, while the Caps are 3-1-0. Washington extended their win streak to three games Sunday night with a win over a strong St. Louis Blues team. The victory not only adds two points to the standings but should also inspire confidence in the Capitals, who have rebounded well from their unimpressive 1-4-0 start to the season.
Pittsburgh’s most recent win came against the Anaheim Ducks, who were defeated 3-1. The ever-hated Sidney Crosby lit the lamp once to score the game-winning goal, and the point tied him with Alexander Steen for first in the league. Washington’s defense will look to shut him down without creating opportunities for other strong offensive players like Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz. The Penguins have a strong lineup, and the Caps can’t afford to have holes in their defense.
Washington has been in a similar situation before, with their opponents using the majority of their penalty-killing efforts on defending Alex Ovechkin. This enables the Caps to have more mobility among their other skaters, who often take tricky shots or cash in on a hectic rebound.
Special teams are the Capitals’ greatest weapon, as they boast the league’s second-best power play and penalty kill. If the Pens don’t play a disciplined game, the Caps must make the most of their man advantage. Pittsburgh is not a team that allows many even-strength goals, which is one of Washington’s weaknesses.
Similarly, the Penguins have the eighth-best penalty kill in the NHL, which clocks in at 84.2%. The majority of the Caps’ goals have come on the power play, and those that have been at even-strength are often followed by a goal for the other team. Responsibility in Washington’s own zone will be a major focus, especially with holes in their defense corps: while Mike Green and John Erskine were on ice this morning, it’s unknown if either will play. John Carlson has stepped up in Green’s absence, logging career-high minutes, but the Caps need all the support they can get.
Both teams are out for blood tonight, with their bitter rivalry now an inter-divisional one. The Penguins swept the Capitals in each of their three meetings last season, so it’s fair to say Washington and its fans are looking for redemption. And what better way than surpassing the enemy in the standings with a victory at home?