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Up next: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the Washington Capitals

[SBN Caps blog - Japers' Rink]

RECORD: 31-12-6 (1st in the East)

SCORERS: Alex Ovechkin (30g, 35a), Nicklas Backstrom (20g, 35a), Mike Green (12g, 38a)

Alex Ovechkin woke up in St. Petersburg, Russia the morning of June 13, 2009 only to hear from a friend that Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup while he was tucked away in his bed eight time zones away.

His heart sunk.

"I was like, 'Jesus,' " Ovechkin said Wednesday from Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "You know, maybe we could have been there, too. I was disappointed."

Dan Rosen

That's the sort of stuff that truly warms your heart.

It's kind of hard to believe this is the first time the Penguins and Capitals are playing since the postseason.  Seriously.  But if there was ever a good time for these two to faceoff once again, I guess now's as good a time as any.  The next three games are pretty big for the Pens - Caps tonight, Flyers on Sunday and Rangers Monday - and for the most part the team is getting by just fine despite a few injuries.  Any doubts of Brent Johnson's ability to step in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury were hopefully silenced the other night in the 6-4 win over the Islanders.  And frankly I'm pretty comfortable with a guy going up against his former team, especially when they guy is a goaltender.

The bigger concern, if any, is etched in how close the Pens came to almost losing a three-goal lead against the Islanders.  And although they did manage to hit the gas and close out Tuesday's game with a win, I think it goes without saying that you can't give a team like the Caps an opportunity to come back. 

So far this month things have continued to work in Washington's favor, as they've posted a 7-2 record early in the new year and currently ride a four-game win streak into Mellon tonight.

This is a big game and hopefully one in which the Penguins can come out on top.  It's a pretty tight race between the Top Four teams in the conference and it's never too early to pick up some big points.  Again, with the Caps on tap tonight, Flyers on Sunday and Rangers on Monday, now would be as good a time as any for Pittsburgh to find that winning touch.  Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but if the Pens can sweep these games they could be in first place by Monday night.