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Insider Only Pre-Game Analysis: On Ovechkin’s struggles; Pens vs Caps 1-2-2 Trap & more tidbits

Pittsburgh Penguins (14-7-4, 32 pts) @ Washington Capitals (12-10-1, 25 pts)

Time: 7:08 p.m. | Where: Verizon Center
WAS Home Record: 8-3-1 | PIT Road Record: 6-6-2
Last 10: WAS 3-6-1 | PIT 5-4-1
Goaltending Matchup:Marc Andre Fleury (13-4-2, 2.17 GAA .922 SV%) vs Tomas Vokoun (10-6-0, 2.77 GAA .906 SV%)
Key Stat:Alexander Ovechkin has 1 goal in 12 home games

Top Storylines

Will Crosby – Ovechkin rivalry rejuvenate? : There is no longer a debate as to who the best player in the NHL is. In fact there shouldn’t even be a debate whether Alexander Ovechkin is better than Evgeni Malkin.
Ovechkin’s drop off in the past year can’t be attributed to former head coach Bruce Boudreau. Ovechkin was once the games best player under Boudreau a few years ago and the NHL’s most unique and dynamic player.
Some scouts are finally coming around to the fact that Ovechkin himself is the problem. This is a league where players get stronger and faster every year.
While Sidney Crosby has continued to get better every year, Ovechkin has not and appears to be a player who can’t rely on talent alone if he’s wants to regain his status as one of the best players in the world. In the past 10-12 months, you can make a strong argument that Ovechkin hasn’t even been among the top 10 players in the league. That’s a huge drop off.
Tonight Ovechkin goes head to head against Sidney Crosby for the first time since January 1, 2011. We’ll find out if the presence of Crosby brings out the best in Ovechkin.
Capitals new System: There’s no denying that the Penguins struggled against Bruce Boudreau’s system in the past. Washington is 11-0-2 in their last 13 regular season games against Pittsburgh. In the regular season, the Capitals have been excellent against the Penguins in 3+ seasons and even in the second round of the 2009 playoff series, that series could have easily went either way.
Tonight under new head coach Dale Hunter, the Penguins will see a new system from the Capitals. This is a system that has a strong emphasis on sitting back and forcing the opposition to make a mistake in the neutral zone.
The system is all about capitalizing on turnovers.

The Capitals under Hunter are running a 1-2-2 trap and the Capitals feel that the Penguins aggressive offensive style that relies strongly on their transition game, will play into the Caps hands tonight.
Despres makes Debut: 2009 1st round pick Simon Despres will be thrown right into the Penguins – Capitals rivalry tonight. He is expected to see around 12-13 minutes of ice time, playing a 3rd pairing role with Robert Bortuzzo and working the point on the second power play.
“He is slated to play on the second {power-play} unit and sometimes that is not a whole ton of time on the power play, but he is slated to be out there on the power play,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He has played 10 or 11 games in exhibition and he’s played minutes. I know he’s more than capable of playing in a lot of different situations, playing a lot of defense, being able to go back for pucks and make plays. He’s had two months of being a professional and developing, and I’m fully confident he can be in a lot of different situations tonight.”
As of now, the Penguins intend to keep Despres up with the team through Saturday night.

Malkin/Crosby vs Backstrom/Ovechkin

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have combined for 20 points (5 games) since Crosby’s return on Nov 21.
Head to head comparison: Crosby/Malkin have combined for 20 goals and 61 points in 38 games vs Capitals. Crosby has 13 multi-point games in 21 games vs Capitals. Malkin has 9 points in his last five vs Capitals.
An interesting stat for Crosby. He is averaging 1.67 points per game in his career vs Penguins. Since the 2010-2011 season, Crosby is averaging 1.67 points per game, a span of 46 regular season games.
Washington’s duo of Alexander Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom have combined for 57 points in 42 games vs Penguins.
Courtesy of the Penguins, In the 11 games that all four have been in the lineup at the same time, Washington is 6-5.

Pre-Game tidbits

*It will be interesting if we see Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing together even more than they did Tuesday night. The two had 11 shifts together (including power play 3) Tuesday night.
*Roman Hamirlik, a minus-10 on the season is a healthy scratch tonight for the Capitals.
*Richard Park who’s been a healthy scratch for the last three games, took all 4th line center reps in the morning and in warmups minutes ago. He’s expected back in tonight.

Head to Head Stats

PIT 3.08 Goals Per Game WAS 3.04
PIT 2.44 Goals Against Per Game WAS 3.22
PIT 18.9% Power Play 20 WAS % 16.1%
PIT 89.5% Penalty Kill % WAS 81.0%
PIT 33.6 Shots on Goal Per Game WAS 30.13
PIT 28.24 Shots Against Per Game WAS 29.74

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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