Pens-Caps preview

I always try to view games like this as “just another one of 82” but there’s a reason why the Pens-Caps rivalry gets hype it does. The two teams put on a thrilling playoff series a few years ago and always manage to play a great game against each other despite their records. Sure, the league over-exposes both teams and it’s annoying for other fans but you can’t blame them for featuring these two games. It also helps that the two teams feature two of the best players in the league right now. Granted, Sidney Crosby has been outperforming Alex Ovechkin and…well pretty much the rest of the league. He has put up points in over 20 straight games and leads the NHL in nearly every offensive category. Meanwhile, Ovechkin finds himself goaless in 7 games (though he has a 3-game point streak) and tonight sounds like the perfect game for him to get back on track since Sid and Ovie usually bring out the best in each other when these two teams play, as cliche as that sounds.

As far as tonight’s matchup goes, it really is just another game for the Caps and they should treat it as such. The Pens are arguably the best team in the league right now and are getting production from just about every line, which is scary for a team missing one of their best defenseman like Washington is right now. Scott Hannan and Mike Green haven’t been great as the top defensive pairing and will have a huge task on their hands in slowing down this Penguins offense. Whether or not they’ll be matched up against the Crosby line remains to be seen but it’s a possibility that the young tandem of John Carlson and Karl Alzner could play the “shutdown role” again since they’ve been the team’s best defensive pairing.

Special teams were one thing that killed Washington during their losing streak and they will also play a key factor tonight. Pittsburgh has the best penalty kill in the league and converting with the extra man is something that Washington has been struggling with this year. On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s powerplay is ranked in the middle of the road and Washington’s PK is ranked 10th but they allowed an anemic Devils powerplay to score once in their last game. Getting Evgeni Malkin back has given life to Pittsburgh’s powerplay the last few games so Washington’s penalty killers need to be at the top of their game.

Last game, it were the guys called up from Hershey who were able to score for the Caps and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens again tonight. It’s been the guys who go to the net to score the dirty goals who have been getting on the board for the Caps lately and I can definitely see it happening again tonight. Only this time I think it will pay off more for guys like Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich rather than the fringe guys like Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon, who I also appreciate. This could be the night where the Capitals “star” players finally show up since the top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin has to get out of this slump at some point and I see tonight as a good game to do it. Really, I see every night as a good game to break a slump so this is no different.

Goaltending matchup should be Michal Neuvirth and Marc-Andre Fleury. Neuvirth appears to have won the starting job for now since this will be his third consecutive start and he has played much better than Semyon Varlamov as of late. Neuvirth is starting to find the consistency he had at the beginning of the year and hopefully it will stick since he seems to be more effective when he gets more starts. Fleury got off to a rough start this season but he has turned it around lately and he should be starting for them on a regular basis with Brent Johnson injuring his groin last night.

Things To Watch

Both teams “star” players. You know who I’m talking about. Like I said earlier, this is the kind of game where the best in these players show up.

The Caps Third Line (Chimera-Johansson-Gordon). These three were the best line on the ice on Tuesday night and I want to see how they build off it tonight. Chimera’s been in a funk for awhile and Johansson’s struggled with consistency but when this line shows it’s potential, it can do some great things.

– John Carlson/Karl Alzner. Considering how poor our top pair has been playing lately, I can definitely see these two get more ice time and play tougher minutes since they have been more effective as a “shutdown pair.” Not to mention, Carlson has one hell of a shot from the blue line and will definitely see more powerplay time as well.

– Brooks Orpik/Kris Letang. I expect these two to get more of the tougher minutes for Pittsburgh since Zbyneck Michalek has struggled this year. Letang’s quietly having a great season and Orpik’s always been a solid defensive player and I could see them get a lot of time on the penalty kill and when 8-19-28 is on the ice.

I think that’s all I have to say. Enjoy the game!

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