A huge sports night for Pittsburgh fans with the Penguins – Capitals dropping the puck at 7:08 p.m. and kickoff for Steelers – Panthers at 8:20 p.m.
In the scheme of things, the Steelers are the more important game but the buzz surrounds Penguins – Capitals tonight.
With the HBO camera’s following, tonight’s tilt is an appetizer for the Winter Classic next weekend.
Pittsburgh comes into tonight’s action with the most wins in the NHL(23) and the second most points in the NHL with 48 points.
Pittsburgh has won 14 of their last 16 games and are a composed confident team at this moment, coming off last night’s 5-2 win over the Panthers.
Meanwhile, Washington is in the midst of regrouping from a disastrous December where the team ended their 8 game losing streak this past Sunday in Ottawa. They come into tonight’s game on a two game winning streak after winning Tuesday night but this is a team who can’t be regarded as turning the corner just yet after wins against Ottawa and New Jersey.
Tonight’s game is much more important for the Capitals and that’s the sense you get coming out of the Capitals locker room.
If Pittsburgh loses tonight, I don’t feel it will affect the Penguins by any means. They know this is a big game but the vibe is that it’s just another game for them.
For the Capitals, tonight is a measuring stick.
“It’s a great barometer to see where we’re at because they’re playing the best hockey of arguably any team in the NHL right now,” Capitals head coach Boudreau said. “So when you play against the best you find where you have to go and where you have to be.”
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Caps vs Pens revamped defense: The Capitals get their first look against Pittsburgh’s revamped defense, a Penguins unit last season that struggled mightily to contain the Capitals dynamic group of forwards.
This season Pittsburgh has excelled defensively due to personnel changes and a change in the teams mindset, ranking 3rd in the NHL in goals against per game at 2.31 per game.
2. Crosby – Ovechkin: The comparisons will never go away but both players are going in different directions this season.
Crosby is playing the best hockey of his career, leading the league with 28 goals, 58 points and is riding a 22 game points streak…..while Ovechkin is playing some of the worst hockey of his career and has not been the same player since his hit on Brian Campbell last season.
Ovechkin has just 12 goals and 39 points on the season. With talk of Ovechkin trying to become a more balanced player, it’s affected his dominance and game changing ability as he only has 2 goals in his last 18 games.
3. Michal Neuvirth: Things haven’t changed in Washington…. Concerns still center around their group of defensemen and goaltending. Management is banking on 22 year olds Michal Neuvirth and Seymon Varlamov.
Neuvirth has posted a 14-6-2 record with a 2.59 GAA and will get the start tonight for Washington. Defensively, the Capitals continue to give up way too many offensive chances and Pittsburgh will look to exploit that.
Head coach Dan Bylsma met with the media just after 4:30 p.m. today at the Verizon Center and Bylsma confirmed that Arron Asham will not play tonight.
However, Bylsma would not confirm if Dustin Jeffrey will be in the lineup over Eric Godard.
Defenseman Deryk Engelland skated this morning with the likely scratches but there has been no confirmation if Engelland will sit for a second straight game.
Ben Lovejoy earned the games No. 1 star last night but took a puck in the face late in last night’s game, receiving 11 stitches.