Pregame #3: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals (2-0-0) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-1)
CONSOL Energy Center
7:00 PM
TV: Local: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), NHL Network
Games Remaining:
Dec  1, 2011 PIT@WSH, 7:00 PM
Jan 11, 2012 PIT@WSH, 7:30 PM
Jan 22, 2012 WSH@PIT, 3:00 PM
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  G Brent Johnson (96 GP, 2005-09), LW Matt Cooke (17 GP, 2008)
Opposing Viewpoints:
Our Bloguin Partner: The Pensblog
Our friends at: City of Champions Sports

Take the plunge!  Read on!

The Washington Capitals face off in one of the league’s marquee matchups tonight when they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins.  The real question isn’t Sid vs. Ovi, the questions surrounding this matchup has more to do with the late-season and offseason acquisitions made by both teams in the offseason.  New Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun will be eager to redeem himself after allowing 5 goals in Monday’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who bounced both the Caps and Pens out of the playoffs last year.  With 9 goals and two shootout goals through two games, it is a good bellwether of the Capitals’ depth that all of the goals have come from the reconstructed lower 3 lines and the new-look defense.  The jury is still out on the Capitals’ special teams, but they have been good enough for two wins so far this year.  The Capitals have been forging their identity as a crease-crashing and hard-working team with the offensive pop to overcome deficits.  Look for that trend to continue tonight. 

The Penguins have started the season without Sidney Crosby and have only had Evgeni Malkin for half of the time, but it hasn’t stopped them from compiling a 3-0-1 record to start the season.  Backstopped by unbeaten G Marc-Andre Fleury and led offensively by defenseman Kris Letang (6 points) and LW Matt Cooke (3 goals), the Penguins continue to be the busiest team in the NHL.  After opening the season with 3 games in western Canada, the Penguins get three games at home before getting on a plane to Winnipeg next week.  Look for the Caps to try to come out early and jump on a weary and depleted Penguins team before they can organize their attack.  There is still plenty of talent and grit on the roster to hurt the Caps if they hit the snooze button for this one.

Injury Report: Capitals’ D John Erskine (shoulder surgery) is out.  G Michal Neuvirth is day-to-day (lower body). 
-For the Penguins, All-Star C Sidney Crosby (concussion) is out, C Evgeni Malkin (lower body) is questionable, and D Brooks Orpik (hernia surgery) is doubtful.

Three Things To Watch For:

Where’s the O?:  Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been mostly invisible so far this season, prompting head coach Bruce Boudreau to switch RW Troy Brouwer onto his line and move RW Mike Knuble to the second line.  With only 1 powerplay assist through 2 games and a miss on his shootout attempt, Ovechkin is not resembling his old self.  Ovechkin came into this season in excellent physical condition, but has seemed out of sync after a death in the family and has not been a factor in front of the opposing net.  Without the prospect of playing Crosby or Malkin tonight, Ovechkin must find another way to get his head in the game tonight. 

Staal Tactics:  Without Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins must once again rely on hulking 2-way center Jordan Staal to carry the load.  He performed admirably last season in that role, and with 4 points in 4 games this year, he is on his way to doing it again.  He is more than capable of skating 25 minutes a night in all situations, and if the Penguins get behind in the contest, he may have to.  The Pens still boast a supporting cast of forwards that are capable of playing excellent hockey at both ends of the rink, but they are a much less dynamic team without their two superstars in the lineup.  Look for a heavy dose of Jordan Staal tonight as the Penguins look to keep the Capitals at bay.

Speed Demon:  Surprisingly, the leading Caps goal scorer isn’t anyone named Alex.  Instead, it is the man with the monster name, Jason Chimera.  With 3 goals in 2 games to open the season, Chimera is showing the Caps management they were right to reward him with a 2-year contract extension before the season started.  Chimera is thriving on a line with Brooks Laich and Joel Ward and is playing some of his best hockey.  He is skating hard, aggressively attacking the net, and is taking care of his own end.  Look for an energized Chimera to be a menace once again