Pregame #37: Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals (20-12-4) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (23-10-2)
Verizon Center
Time: 7:00PM
TV: CSN-DC (Game On!), NHLN-US, Fox Sports Pittsburgh
Radio: XM, 1500AM, 820AM
Game Promotion: Wives Gift Basket Auction, Slapshot Santa on main concourse
Previous Games: (none)
Games Remaining:
Jan 1, 2011 WSH@PIT 1:00 PM ET
Feb 6, 2011 PIT@WSH 12:30 PM ET
Feb 21, 2011 WSH@PIT 7:30 PM ET
Friendly Faces of Former Capitals:  Matt Cooke (2008), Brent Johnson (2005-09)
The Enemy:
The Pensblog
Puck Huffers

The Capitals will finally face off against their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In a preview of the Winter Classic, a mostly healthy Penguins squad will come to town for the first of four meetings this season.  With 24/7 coverage of the teams leading up to the big event, this is sure to be a closely watched game around the league.  The Caps are on a winning streak while the Penguins had dropped 2 of 3 games heading into last night’s game against the Florida Panthers. 

Bad news for Caps fans:  Andrew Gordon and Sidney Crosby are friends.  Public Enemy #1 and the boy-faced Gordon grew up playing hockey together in Nova Scotia and they still keep in touch.  Gordon recorded his first NHL goal and assist last night and The Washington Post reported the scandal that Crosby congratulated Gordon by text last night.  Aw, shucks.

Injury Report:  Jeff Schultz (broken thumb) and winger Matt Bradley (broken finger) are out until January. Center Boyd Gordon (lower body), defenseman Tyler Sloan (groin), and enforcer D.J. King are also on injured reserve, but should be getting closer to returning. Forward Matt Hendricks is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, but with winger Eric Fehr expected back in the lineup after attending a family funeral, it is unlikely Coach Bruce Boudreau will rush him back into the lineup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without hulking center Jordan Staal indefinitely with multiple ailments. Forward Mike Comrie is also on injured reserve with a lower body injury.

This guy is looking smarter already. You can too, after you read the rest of the pregamer!

What to watch for:

Minor Additions: With AHL call-ups Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, and Mathieu Perreault in the lineup, the Caps crashing the crease quotient has increased dramatically. “Flash” Gordon earned his first NHL goal and assist against the Devils on Tuesday night while Beagle scored his first goal of the season. In the meantime, Perreault is quietly making his case to stay on the team by continuing to work hard and go to the net. With mounting injuries to the team’s regular forwards, they could continue to cement their spots in the lineup with continued strong play.

1-2 Punch: The Penguins are coming to town with all guns blazing. They have their top two offensive stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, firing on all cylinders. On Monday night, Malkin scored 5 points and Crosby had three as the cruised past the Phoenix Coyotes. Crosby is leading the league in goals (27) and points (57) while Malkin is producing at better than a point per game, with 30 in 29.  Whether they play on the same line or apart, they will be together on the powerplay and are as dangerous as ever.  The Caps defensemen will have to mind their gaps and the team as a whole will have to stay out of the penalty box. 

Right-Wing Craziness: With the high number of right wingers Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have had over the past few games, you’d think the coach had a quota to fill (Fehr, Semin, Knuble, Gordon). If Boudreau is looking for more production from his big stars, he’d do well to try something different. Ovechkin had a renaissance for a few games while playing the right wing. Considering his ineptitude of late on the left side, it might be worth putting him back there, or perhaps just split up Ovechkin and Backstrom altogether, as neither of them are producing. Unfortunately, splitting them up would come at the expense of the Capitals other lines, all three of which produced a goal in the last game.