Game time: 8:00 PM Eastern
TV: NBC SN
Last year: Wasn't good - the Caps won the first 3 games against the Pens last season, in convincing fashion (3-0 on December 27, 4-0 on January 28th and 3-1 Feb 17). Pittsburgh salvaged a win in DC their last trip there on Feb 25th. Funnily enough, Caps/Pens in recent years has been very cyclical with one team usually crushing the other for about 18 months, then a sea change and the other team winning all the games for the next while.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have long had many parallels. This year, one that jumps out is that it's year 2 for both of their coaches.
Washington has jumped out with authority in the second year of Barry Trotz. They're off to a 6-1-0 start (the lone loss coming in a game that Alex Ovechkin was a scratch for being late to the gameday meeting). 29 goals for (an impressive 4.14 per game) and a power play that's humming along with a 31.8% conversion rate. The Caps look very comfortable in their system and new acquisitions TJ Oshie (3 goals, 4 assists) and Justin Williams (1g+5a) have slid in seamlessly to an already talented core.
The Pens, as we all know, have had about a polar opposite start to the season. The offense has not found much pay-dirt in Mike Johnston's second season so far, with only 13 goals in 8 games. Pittsburgh has been able to puck a lot of rubber to the net (32.9 shots/game is 4th in the league) but hasn't yet been rewarded.
As the two teams meet for the first time in the 2015-16 season, will playing a heated foe spark some goals for Pittsburgh? Can't hurt to ask.
Player to watch
No Capital has been hotter than Evgeni Kuznetsov to start the season. Kuz was named the NHL's #1 star of the week on Monday for scoring 9 points in 3 games last week. Yep, that'll do it. Overall he's got 3 goals and 8 assists in 7 games this season, and is playing so well as the first line center that the Caps are at least temporarily keeping Nicklas Backstrom (who returned recently from an off-season hip surgery) to the second line.
Kutznetsov was picked 26th overall in the 2010 draft (6 spots after Beau Bennett ) . He slipped due to the dreaded "KHL factor" since it was unknown when or if he would get out of his contract in Russia and/or have interest in coming to the NHL. Indeed, he did play 4 seasons after his draft in Russia before making the jump to America for the 2013-14 season. Since then, he's gradually become a bigger part of the Caps, and was one of their best players in the playoffs last season - highlighted by a Game 7 overtime goal against the NY Islanders.
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeni Kuznetsov - TJ Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Justin Williams
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Chandler Stephenson - Brooks Laich
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Dmitri Orlov - Taylor Chorney
Interestingly, over recent years, the Capitals and Penguins have shared many common players, exclusively through free agency. The Pens have Eric Fehr , though he can't play tonight as he finishes out his stint on long-term injury reserve.
The Caps have Orpik, Niskanen and Chorney this season (plus Zach Sill in the minors). For all the griping coming out of the nation's capital about Orpik's long and expensive contract, he has played a solid, reliable, steady game so far for them. They still might live to regret that on the back-end of the 5 year deal, but for now the 35-year old is logging tough minutes and his partner, John Carlson is playing well.
Niskanen, as always, is having a solid season too with 5 points (2g+3a) in 7 games. He's also playing 23 minutes a night so far this year.
Chorney is a depth player, but has appeared in 4 games already. We saw last year, Chorney is a decent but certainly not spectacular option in the NHL. The Caps have a really solid top-4 defense (all who have been very durable too) but there certainly is a big cliff of talent after that 4. If their depth is tested through injuries it will be a big challenge.
Infographic from the Pens