Pregame #73: Capitals vs. Penguins

Washington Capitals (48-14-10) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-25-6)
Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Comcast SportsNet, NHL Network
Radio: 820AM, 1500AM, 106.7 FM and XM
Previous Games:
Feb 7, 2010     PIT@WSH        WSH, 5 – 4
Jan 21, 2010    WSH@PIT        WSH, 6 – 3
Games Remaining:
Apr 6, 2010     WSH@PIT         7:00 PM

The Washington Capitals take to the ice tonight well rested after a 3-day break, and look to tie the franchise record for points in a season with a win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. This is the third meeting of the season between the Caps and the Pens, the last being a Super Bowl Sunday spectacle as DC rallied from a 4-1 hole with a Alex Ovechkin hat trick and a Mike Knuble tip-in overtime winner. Les Capitales have been rolling right along since the Vancouver Winter Olympic break, racking up a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games. Washington has already been able to lock up a play-off berth (the only team to do so in the NHL), and the Southeast Division (earliest in team history), and currently have their sights set on the Eastern Conference title (having a 16-point lead over the second-place Penguins and New Jersey Devils) and the President’s Trophy (7 point lead over the Western Conference’s Chicago Blackhawks).

What To Watch For:
-Limping to the Postseason: The black and gold haven’t been as lucky as of late, slumping to a 5-3-2 record over their last 10 contests – 2-3-2 in their last seven, with two losses in a row. Although Pittsburgh is currently ranked 5th in the league with 2.99 goals per game, they’ve only been able to light the lamp 14 times during that 7-game stretch (and score more than two goals only twice). The Penguins are currently tied with the New Jersey Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference, however the Devils have played one less game. 

-Where’s Sidney? Sidney Crosby, who is tied with Ovechkin for the league lead with 45 goals, hasn’t scored in 5 straight games and has only 3 to his credit since returning from Vancouver. In the two meetings this season, the Great 8 has tallied 5 goals and 2 assists while Crosby has mustered 3 goals. Evgeni Malkin has 5 assists against the Capitals this season.

-Injuries abound: The Penguins have suffered greatly without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, who missed 3 of the last 4 games with a sore foot. Pittsburgh is just 3-7-0 without Malkin in their line up, a stark contrast to the Capitals who flourished to a 7-2-1 record in the 10 games without Alex Ovechkin. Malkin will be a game time decision for Pittsburgh, along with the Capitals’ Brooks Laich who took a puck to his eye from John Carlson in practice yesterday. Laich is currently riding a career-best 6-game scoring streak (4-4-8) and if he’s in the press box tonight, his streak of 257 consecutive games played will also end.

UPDATE: It looks like Brooksie McHandsomePants is out for the next two games while he recovers from a face-pucking. (sorry ladies, it’s just the jealousy talking)

-Backstopping the Best: Although usually stout, Marc-Andre Fleury has compiled a 33-19-5 record during the 2009-10 season. In his 25 appearances in 2010, he’s appeared especially mortal going 11-8-4 with a 2.90 GAA and .905 Sv %. For the Caps, Jose Theodore hasn’t lost in regulation during the course of his last 18 games (16-0-2) with a 2.40 GAA and a .927 SV %. Jose Shut-the-door has won 6 straight games, allowing only 1.80 GA during that streak.

** Be brave and read the tales from the dark-side over at the Pensblog.