Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (15-12-6; 36 points, 4th in Metropolitan Division) @ Washington Capitals (20-9-3, 43 points, 1st in Metropolitan Division)
When: 8:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: National game of the week or whatever they call it on NBCSN
Opponent Track: The Caps are on a roll as of late, winners of five straight. There’s a little bit of smoke and mirrors there- since the last two games have been shootout wins, but a win is a win is a win.
Pens Refresh: The two steps forward, two steps back campaign continued by losing to Anaheim 4-2 and giving up 38 shots on goal to a team averaging 27 coming into the game.
Season series: The Pens’ won their season opener in a thrilling 7-6 OT win way back on October 4th in Pittsburgh. The two teams clashed again on November 7th and TJ Oshie scored in the game’s dying moments to give the Caps a 2-1 regulation win. After tonight there’s only one more regular season matchup, back in Pittsburgh, on March 12th.
SBN Team Counterpart: Japers Rink
Tale of the tape
—The Caps, as usual, are one of the league’s highest scoring teams. Remove the shootout goals and here are their outputs in the last 10 games: 3, 5, 6, 4, 4, 3, 5, 6, 4, 5. That’s a consistent way to average 4.5 goals per game in the last 10 games, so it will be a tall task to do what Pittsburgh did last game and hold Washington to even two goals.
—The Caps are also seeming to retain some of the Barry Trotz “shot quality not shot quantity” type of mentality with mediocre shooting stats. But when they shoot they’re hitting the net a whopping 11% of the time at 5v5.
—Besides penalty kill (advantage Pens) and goaltending (advantage Caps), the teams are about mirror images of each other on many levels.
Player stats at a glance
—The Alex Ovechkin story just keeps on churning out the goals. He’s scored 14 goals in the last 11 games since Thanksgiving (including seven in the last three) and producing like never before. Someone make it stop (looks at Brian Dumoulin).
—Secondary scoring-wise, Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana are having fine seasons and developing into some decent down-the-lineup options. Andre Burakovsky on the other hand, not so much.
—Braden Holtby’s even strength save percentage of .929% ranks 7th in the league (hey there Casey DeSmith’s .928 right behind him)..Be it goalie or team defense the problem has been while the Caps are on the penalty kill, Holtby’s .798 save% there ranks 27th out of the 28 goalies who have played 19+ games so far this season.
Hot and cold players
Japers Rink gives us a little more detail on individual players and their current form:
Alex Ovechkin. Six game goal streak (ten goals, including two hat tricks), 17 goals over his last 14 games, points in all 14 of those games (longest career points streak), goals in each of his last eight road games (11 in all…look out, Ottawa), the Caps with a 17-2-1 in the 20 games in which he scored at least one goal. But try this on. In his last 82 games through Week 11, including the playoffs, Ovechkin has 60 goals. Death Valley is air conditioned compared to this guy.
John Carlson. Last year’s league leader in points among defensemen is at the top of the heap once, more, tied with Thomas Chabot and Morgan Rielly with 35 points going into Sunday’s games. Carlson had a three-game points streak snapped against Buffalo on Saturday, but he still had 17 points (all assists) in his last 14 games at the close of last week. His 12 multi-point games led all defensemen through Week 11. Five of those games have come in his last 13 contests.
Travis Boyd. It has been a nice start to this season for Travis Boyd. After getting a cup of coffee with the club last season (one assist in eight games) he is off to a better than half a point per game start to this season with ten points in 16 games (3-7-10). He has even been hotter lately with eight points in his last 11 games, despite having a four-game points streak (including goals in three straight contests) snapped against Buffalo on Saturday.
Matt Niskanen. Although his overall numbers (4-10-14 in 32 games) are slightly ahead of last year’s pace (7-22-29 in 68 games, Matt Niskanen is without a point over his last four contests. He has one goal over his last 17 games on 26 shots.
Chandler Stephenson. After dressing for the first 30 games this season, Chandler Stephenson was held out of Friday’s game against Carolina as a healthy scratch. It didn’t pay immediate dividends when he returned to the lineup the following night against Buffalo. When he went without a point, it was his fifth straight and 11th in 12 games without a point, and it was his 15th game this season out of 31 without a shot on goal.
Lars Eller. In Week 10, Lars Eller went without a point stretching his streak of games without one to seven, his longest since he had a seven-game streak without a point last December. It matters. The Caps are 7-1-2 in the ten games in which Eller has a point this season.
I believe Niskanen’s advanced metrics are actually rising of late, but he fairly quietly got off to a very slow start to the season surprisingly enough.
Lines (from Monday practice)
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - TJ Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson - Nic Dowd - Travis Boyd
Michal Kempny / John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen
Jonas Siegenthaler / Madison Bowey
Scratches: Burakovsky, Tyler Lewington, Dmitry Jaskin (healthy)
IR: Christian Djoos, Brooks Orpik
—Up front the Caps are getting healthier with recent returns by Oshie and Wilson from concussions. On defense they’re banged up with Orpik approaching a post-Christmas return from knee surgery and Djoos recently going under the knife himself.
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off Monday game)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Patric Hornqvist
Derek Grant - Matt Cullen - Riley Sheahan
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Juuso Riikola (healthy), Chad Ruhwedel (healthy)
Injured Reserve: Dominik Simon,
—We’ll adjust the lineup soon but the apparent depatures of Wilson and Dea could shake things up a bit from last game
The Road Ahead
After tonight, there are only two games left before the NHL’s Christmas break. The Pens go to Minnesota tomorrow night and then head down to Carolina on Saturday before enjoying four days off for a break and face Detroit at home on 12/27.