Pre-Game Buzz: One Hour to Game Time
The Penguins and Washington Capitals meet in the first of four highly-anticipated meetings this season. Even with no Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik, Marc Andre Fleury and possibly no Evgeni Malkin, there is still a lot of buzz surrounding this game.
For Pittsburgh, Brent Johnson (0-0-1, 1.92 GAA) will get the start in goal tonight as Fleury is under the weather. Johnson is 4-2-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .921 save percentage in his career vs Washington. Johnson has also posted one shutout against Washington
All eyes in warmups will be on Malkin who has missed the past two games. Malkin confirmed this morning that he has knee sorness in around the scar of his surgically repaired right knee, that required surgery on two torn ligaments last February. Malkin is feeling better and expected to participate in warmups and will be a coaches decision.
The Capitals come into tonight’s game with a 2-0-0 record, averaging 4.5 goals per game but are giving up 4 goals per game through two games.
In four games, ten different players have scored for Pittsburgh, while in two games, eight different players have scored for Washington.
Tomas Vokoun (1-0-0, 4.62 GAA .821 SV%) makes his first start in a Capitals uniform vs Pittsburgh. Vokoun who has finished in the top-10 in save percentage in 5 of the last 6 seasons, gave up 5 goals in his Capitals debut Monday night, a 6-5 Washington win over Tampa Bay.
Vokoun is 7-9-6 with 2 shutouts, 2.67 GAA and .923 save percentage in 23 games vs Pittsburgh.
The Penguins are 0-6-1 at home against Washington dating back to a 6-5 shootout loss to the Capitals on Jan. 21, 2008. The Penguins also enter tonight with a 157:47 minute goalless stretch against the Capitals that dates back to Evgeni Malkin’s second-period goal in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
Since 2008 (regular season stats), the Capitals have gone 11-1-2 with two shootout losses against Pittsburgh. Alex Ovechkin has registered 32 points (18g-14a) in 24 career games against the Penguins while Nicklas Backstrom has 22 points (1g-21a) in 16 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
The Penguins will see a different Capitals top line than they are use to seeing with newcomer Troy Brouwer skating on the right wing with Niklas Backstrom at center and Alexander Ovechkin at left wing.
Brouwer gives Washington a tough skilled physical presence, leading the Capitals with 13 hits in two games. The addition of Brouwer has given the Capitals the ability to drop Mike Knuble to the second line with Alexander Semin and young centerman Marcus Johansson who’s an up and coming player for the Capitals. Johansson had a goal and 2 assists in three games vs Pittsburgh last season.
The Capitals have always been a team dictated by their stars but pundits believe in the long run a difference in this years Capitals team from years past will be their depth on the 3rd and 4th lines.
The Capitals tonight will send out a third line of Jason Chimera – Brooks Laich and Joel Ward. A line that could be very effective this season. Jeff Halpren will center the 4th line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks on the wings.
Matchup to Watch: Zbynek Michalek vs Alexander Ovechkin
Zbynek Michalek will get the primary shutdown role tonight vs Ovechkin, and played a big part in the Penguins success last season against Ovechkin, limiting Ovechkin to just one goal on 22 shots (4.5%) and a minus-one rating in four games. That was a huge improvement over the previous season in 2009-10, when Ovechkin was the leading scorer in the season series with seven goals and 10 points and a plus-8 rating in four games. That year, Ovechkin scored seven times on 22 shots for a shooting percentage of 31.8%.
Power Play: 2-for-12 16.7% (T-11th NHL) | Penalty Kill: 6-for-8 75.0% (T-23rd NHL)
Power Play: 5-for-20 25.0% (7th NHL) | Penalty Kill: 16-for-16 100.0% (T-1st NHL)
Joe Vitale leads the Penguins in face off percentage (34-21, 61.8%) and is coming off a 2 assist game.
Craig Adams has points in five of his last eight games dating back to last season (2G-3A)
Pascal Dupuis has points in six of his last eight games and nine points (5G-4A), dating back to the end of last year.
On the heels of a new 2 year extension, Chris Kunitz enters tonight one point shy of earning his 100th point as a member of the Penguins (43G-56A).
Jordan Staal is averaging a point per game, with a goal and three assists on the season.
Kris Letang (1G-5A), who enters tonight as the NHL’s leading scorer, can equal his career long point streak tonight. Letang’s previous five-game point streak came Nov. 1-13, 2008 (5A). Letang is off to a fast start again this year, leading the Penguins and all NHL D-men in assists (5) and points (6). Letang also leads the team in average time on ice (26:48), rating (+4), blocked shots (8), takeaways and shots (12, tied)
Matt Niskanen is appearing in his 300th NHL game tonight.