Washington Capitals: 21-17-2 (44 points, currently 10th in the East)
118 goals for, 120 goals against
Last 10 games: 5-4-1
Pens record vs. Washington in Season Series: 1-0-1 (Washington win 3-2 (OT) on October 13th, Pittsburgh won 2-1 on December 1st)
Leading Scorer: Nicklas Backstrom- 42 points in 38 games (13 goals, 29 assists), 22 PIMs, -2
Unsung Stud: Karl Alzner- 40 gp, 12p (1g + 11a) 16 PIMs, +9
--Alzner hasn't gotten much due; he's usually paired with a flashier defenseman like John Carlson. But look at any statistical measure (aside from goals and assists) and Alzner is probably the Capitals leader by a mile. He's become a consistent force on the blue line, able to match up against and shut down the opponent's top line. Considering the Penguins really have only one scoring line right now, that could be a huge issue, so watch how the Malkin vs. Alzner battle goes all game long.
SB Partner blog: Japers Rink
The Good: Ignore a recent short two-game California roadie and the Caps were 5-1-1 from December 20th to January 3rd and playing some of their best hockey of the season under new coach Dale Hunter. Alex Ovechkin recorded at least a point in all seven of those games, putting up a total of 7 goals and 4 assists in 2005-09 Ovechkin style.
The Bad: Look at the first part of that first sentence- you can't ignore the last two games where the Caps lost two games by a combined score of 10-4. Ovechkin went 0-0-0, -4 in these two games. The Caps all season long have been a very Jekyll & Hyde team. Some games Ovechkin and Alex Semin produce, sometimes they float. Sometimes goalies Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth are serviceable, some nights they are terrible. It's been nearly impossible to guess which Caps team will show up on any given night.
Old Friends: The Caps do not currently employ any former Penguins at the NHL level. So, since there's no one to highlight here, keep an eye on young defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who was re-called for the first time yesterday by the Caps. It's hard to imagine they call him up NOT to play him, so two of John Erskine, Dmitry Orlov and Jeff Schultz could be healthy scratches. In addition, Mike Green (groin) hasn't been skating recently and is expected to miss the game.
-Tonight we probably won't see any of the staged fights, perhaps only fisticuffs if a temper boils over or if a guy like Hendricks or Asham is looking to reverse momentum.
Hidden Stat: Neuvirth and Vokoun's combined stats show a save percentage of .936% in Washington wins, and just .877% in losses. Compare that to Marc-Andre Fleury's less extreme swing of .926% in wins to .892% in defeats. When the Caps netminders have been good, they've been great; but when they've been bad, they've been awful.
Hidden Stat Part II: In the first two matchups of the season, Pittsburgh has out-shot Washington 76-36.
PensBurgh 3 Keys:
1 - Small difference between a rut and a groove. The Pens have lost five straight games, played last night and now travel to the town of one of their biggest rivals. A tough challenge indeed, but a also great opportunity. It's difficult to always "get up" for 82 regular season games one after another after another, but not one man in either dressing room needs extra motivation for a Washington/Pittsburgh game. Channel that energy of a playoff-type atmosphere and utilize it tonight.
2- Exploit Rookie Defense. Twitter reports are saying Kundratek and Orlov are paired together and could be a unit tonight. If that's the case, that's a huge area of possibility for the Penguins forecheck, being as Kundratek would be making his NHL debut and Orlov has 22 games of NHL experience. The Caps get last line-change, so don't expect guys like Malkin or James Neal to face them, but some Pittsburgh third/fourth liners could get the opportunity.
3- Old Man Winter. Last game, for the first time in seemingly recorded history and regardless of color of opposing uniform, Mike Knuble did not score against the Penguins. This season Knuble hasn't been scoring on much of anyone though, with just three goals in 40 games and he's found himself stuck mainly on the 4th line with limited PP time under Dale Hunter. But still- once a Penguin killer, always a Penguin killer. The Pens defense can't let the damnable old man get to the net with the puck, because we all know what happens next.