CAPITALS (12-15-1, 25 PTS) @ PENGUINS (22-8-0, 44 PTS)
Some Lineup News:
*Center Evgeni Malkin won’t play tonight but is getting close to returning. Malkin said after the skate that he hopes to play Friday night and sounded optimistic about playing. The Penguins and Malkin are being cautious with his shoulder injury.
*Defenseman Kris Letang, as expected, won’t play tonight. Letang is listed as day to day.
*Matt Cooke is a game time decision. The sense is he will play tonight but the team will dress seven defensemen if Cooke can’t go. The smart move might be to give him a night off.┬áBylsma for the second time in about a week, mentioned that dressing seven defensemen has actually been a part of the regular decision making and is a direction the team could go at times. The Penguins had some success last post-season using seven defensemen, going 2-1 when dressing seven D.

*Hockey coaches want to see their hockey club finding an identity in March and into the stretch run, and Bylsma is seeing that from his team right now which is important with just 18 games to go. “Identity of a team takes a while,” Bylsma said. “March is time of year you should have {it}. The identity and how you’re going to compete and win hockey games. Our best hockey games have been our last 10 games,” Bylsma said. “Played to our identity. Right now identity of our team is how we want to play.”

*A lot of buzz centers around the Penguins improved play defensively of late as the team has given up just 5 goals in their last five games. We’re seeing much better gap control in the neutral zone and the Penguins getting to their game in the offensive zone.
“Buying into our system, playing our game,” winger Chris Kunitz said of the Penguins nine game winning streak and improved defensive play. As the Penguins look to extend their winning streak to 10 games, Kunitz doesn’t see any additional pressure. “I don’t think so,” Kunitz said. “Take it one game at a time.” Kunitz┬ámentioned today that playing the Bruins twice last week was good for them {Penguins} as it put the team on a “defensive notice.”

*Defenseman Mark Eaton who has been a calming presence on the blueline, says one reason for the Penguins improved defensive play has been better puck management. “When we were allowing a lot of goals season was still young,” Eaton said. “Certain things we talked about, defensive zone and managing puck. Start to see it pay dividends {managing puck better} right now, but it is still a work in progress.”

*The Capitals have yet to find their mark under new head coach Adam Oates but Bylsma see’s similarities to the Devils in how the Capitals want to play. “It’s easy to see the parallels to the way New Jersey plays,” Bylsma said.

*Capitals defenseman Mike Green is not expected to play tonight and buzz among Capitals people is that he’s never going to be the same player again as he can’t shake the lower body issues.