Insider Only Pens/Caps Preview: Capitals highly motivated in first meeting since Game 7 collapse

Capitals look for Redemption

Game 52

Washington Capitals
31-12-6
7-3 Last 10
Pittsburgh Penguins
31-19-1
5-5 Last 10

Heated Rivalry

Since the lockout, a new rivalry has been born between Pittsburgh and Washington, and that rivalry is due to the talents and personalities of superstars of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Crosby v Ovechkin

Lifetime, Crosby and the Penguins hold the edge over Ovechkin’s Capitals. Their head-to-head stats are impressive: Crosby holds the edge in goals (32-30), power play goals (8-7), wins (11-5) and playoff wins (4-3, 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals.) Ovechkin holds the head-to-head edge in assists (35-31), points (65-63), plus-minus (+27 to +12) and penalty minutes (60-47).

Rematch

For the first time this season (52 games into the season!), the schedulemakers have blessed fans with a rematch of the instant-classic 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Fans are curious to see how these two players and teams will match up with all parties involved enjoying success this season. Crosby (63) and Ovechkin (65) are fourth and second, respectively, in the NHL points race. They also run 2-3 in the goal scoring race. Crosby has 32 goals on the season, and Ovechkin 30.

Vital Stats

Pittsburgh sports the league’s 26th-ranked power play, which took a quantum leap forward with a four of seven performance against the Islanders Thursday night. Washington has fared better – their 25.1 conversion rate is tops in the league.
Penalty killing has been a surprising strong suit for the Penguins this season, and at 82.9 percent is 11th in the league. Washington’s sore spots have been on defense and in net, and it shows with a 24th-ranked PK unit (79.2 percent).
In even-strength play or in special teams, no one scores more goals than the Washington Capitals. Their offense has tallied 181 goals this season (3.69 goals per game), but the Penguins are close at 5th in the NHL with 157 goals (3.08 goals per game).

Goalie Matchup

As goes without saying, goaltender is the most important position in the game. Up and down the lineup, the Pens are stronger in net than the Capitals. Fleury will not start tonight’s game, but Brent Johnson, himself a former Capital, is a more than a capable starter for this team. Johnson is now 6-4 on the season with a 2.62 GAA and .915 SV%.
For the Capitals, sensational rookie Semyon Varlamov still sits with a groin injury, but is set to return within the next week or so. That leaves Jose Theodore and rookie Michal Neuvirth to mind the pipes for the Capitals.
Theodore is 14-7-4 this season with a 2.85 GAA and .906 save percentage. Neuvirth is 5-4 with a 3.27 GAA and .892 save percentage. Theodore has found success lately, posting four straight wins. Nonetheless, the Capitals are staking their future in the paint on Varlamov, and would like to see the rookie return to action.

Goal Parade

Through 51 games this season, the Capitals have ten players who’ve scored ten or more goals, while the Penguins have seven. The biggest shooters to watch will be Crosby and Ovechkin. Ovechkin has 30 goals this season on 209 shots (second in the league). Crosby’s 32 goals have come on 188 shots on goal, tied for fourth in the league, and his 17.0 shooting percentage is fifth in the league amongst players with at least 150 shots on goal.

Defense

Team defense has been the Achilles heel of a high-scoring Capitals team, and that presents the possibility of a run and gun, shootout game tonight. Pittsburgh is 9th in the NHL in shots against per game (29.1), and the Caps are 18th at 30.2. However, Washington holds the edge in goals against per game, 2.78 to 2.8.

Injury Report

Chris Kunitz (abdomen) and Marc-Andre Fleury (broken finger) remain on the sidelines. After Tuesday’s game, the Pens find themselves suddenly bit by the injury bug. Max Talbot (foot) and Pascal Dupuis (facial laceration) will be out for tonight’s game.
This morning, Dustin Jeffrey and Nick Johnson of the WBS Penguins were called up. Jeffrey, 21, is fifth in the AHL in scoring (13G, 30A). Johnson, 24, will make his NHL debut tonight. The 6-2, 202 pound forward is fifth on the team with 22 points in 26 games.
Johnson will play on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko.
For Washington, rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov remains out, but is making rehab starts with the Hershey Bears (AHL). Defensemen Brian Pothier (unspecified) and John Erskine (upper-body) are also out for the Caps.
The Washington Capitals recalled defenseman John Carlson as a precautionary move. Defenseman Mike Green is bothered by a nagging undisclosed injury and is questionable for tonight’s game.

Secondary Stars

Crosby and Ovechkin aren’t the only superstars to watch tonight. Nicklas Backstrom has become a world-class center working alongside Ovechkin. His 35 assists are tenth in the league. Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin continues to break out of his slump. Malkin got himself a hat trick against the Islanders Tuesday and now has four goals in his last two games.
Crosby and Ovechkin are already playing at the top of their games. If Malkin plays the type of game we’re accustomed to seeing from him tonight, this matchup will spark one of the NHL’s best rivalries for the three remaining matchups to come.

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