Who: Washington Capitals (2-0-0, 4 points, t-1st place Eastern Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (0-2-0, 0 points, 8th place in the Eastern Division)
When: 12:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: A nationally televised game on NBC (WPXI, Channel 11 in Pittsburgh)
Opponent Track: The Caps started the season with a two game set on the road in Buffalo. Washington won a shootout in the first game by the score of 6-4. The second game on Friday night, the Sabres out-shot the Caps 31-21 (and BUF had a 5-0 power play advantage) but the Caps found a way to pull out a defensive battle with a 2-1 win.
Pens path ahead: Washington will remain in town to play the Pens again on Tuesday night. Then the Pens will stay in Pittsburgh and host the NY Rangers on Friday and next Sunday.
Season Series: The Caps come back to Pittsburgh next month on Feb 14+16 (the first another NBC afternoon game). The Pens go to DC on Feb 23+25. At that point the two rivals go their separate ways for quite a while until one final two game series in DC on April 29+ May 1, towards the end of the regular season.
Recent History: The Pens are 6-2-0 vs. the Caps at home in the last eight games, lighting them up for an AVERAGE of 4.88 goals per game in this stretch. (Can Braden Holtby come back just for one last game? Please?)...Overall, Pittsburgh went 2-1-0 vs. Washington in the 2019-20 season
SBN Team Counterpart: It’s our friends at Japers Rink for the Caps’ side of things
Player Stats at a Glance
—The Caps, as usual, are led by a potent and strong top six forward group who, along with John Carlson did well in Buffalo — all of them have scored at least two points in the two games so far (except for Evgeny Kuznetsov who has none). The lower lines did almost nothing offensively, Garnet Hathaway scored a goal on an empty net.
—Washington has a lot of former Penguins on the roster. Justin Schultz has played in a #6D role, getting 16:38 so far. Conor Sheary is starting out on the third line, but at 9:46, he’s been the least used player. Carl Hagelin is playing on the fourth line and in his customary spot on the PK. Daniel Sprong, now on his third NHL organization and still searching for a coach that will use him, was a healthy scratch for both games.
—The Caps were forced to go young in net after the unfortunate health situation knocked Henrik Lundqvist out, that opened the door for 25 year old Vitek Vanacek to make his NHL debut on Friday night. Vanacek played very well, it will be interesting to see if he gets an opportunity to play again versus the Pens at some point in the next two games. 23-year old Ilya Samsonov (with 27 NHL games on his career resume) is now the No. 1 netminder, replacing the departed Holtby.
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - TJ Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Evgeni Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Conor Sheary - Lars Eller Richard Panik
Carl Hagelin - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Dmitri Orlov / John Carlson
Brendon Dillon / Justin Schultz
Zdeno Chara / Niklas Jensen
Expected starting goalie: Ilya Samsonov
Scratches: Daniel Sprong (healthy), Jonas Siegenthaler (healthy), Trevor van Riemsdyk (healthy)
LTIR: Henrik Lundqvist, Michal Kempny
Taxi Squad: Craig Anderson, Daniel Carr, Pheonix Copley, Zach Fucale, Martin Fehervary, Brian Pinho
He said it
"The dream came true. I'm so happy we won..." [pie]— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 16, 2021
Caps goalie Vitek Vanecek talks to the media after his first NHL start and win alongside defenseman Justin Schultz#CapsSabres pic.twitter.com/zbHnGCKRus
Sid vs. Alex, Round 53
Since this game is on NBC, you’d be surprised to learn that 38 players are dressing to play whose names aren’t Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. Still, the league’s hottest individual rivalry (maybe....ever?) now hits Round 53.
If this was boxing though, the fight would have long already been stopped, with Sid and the Pens holding a significant advantage over Ovi and the Caps. Per Pens PR:
The two have taken part in 52 head-to-head matchups, where Crosby and the Penguins have gone 31-19-2 against Ovechkin and the Capitals. Below are their stats when facing each other in the regular season:
Player GP G A PTS
Sidney Crosby 52 26 48 74
Alex Ovechkin 52 30 21 51
And now for the Pens..
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Mark Jankowski - Brandon Tanev
Colton Sceviour - Teddy Blueger -Sam Lafferty
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel
Scratches: Juuso Riikola (healthy), Cody Ceci (healthy)
Expected starting goalie: ?
IR: Zach Aston-Reese
NHL Non-Roster: Kasperi Kapanen (COVID protocol, quarantine)
Taxi Squad: Anthony Angello, Alex D’Orio, Frederick Gaudreau, Maxime Lagace, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Drew O’Connor
He said it...
Guentzel: "I think we know Washington real well. Todd has brought some insight. But we just have to worry about our game tomorrow and getting in the win column. It's about having the right mentality and limiting mistakes, and if we do that I like our chances."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) January 16, 2021
3 keys to the game:
- Which Evgeni gets going? Both Russian star centers have a donut in the points column early in the season. Malkin has been rockin the red lately, with 15 points (5G+10A) in his last nine games versus the Caps. Kuznetsov, somewhat surprisingly, only has 4G+10A in 26 career games against Pittsburgh. The battle of the Evgeni(y)’s might go a long way in determining which side prevails.
- Young goalie battle. With doing no research to support this claim — this has to be the most inexperienced total netminding matchups in Pens/Caps history. Or at least one of them. Pittsburgh has 115 games of experience (Jarry 64, DeSmith 51), and Washington has far less with 28 (Samsonov 27, Vanacek 1). The lights will be bright for a day game on national TV, and in just a one game sample the respective backups have performed better. How the net sorts out on both sides in this series will be a critical component.
- Avoiding the sin bin. Both the Pens and the Caps tend to give their opponents a ton of power plays. This is not a good idea for either team in this star-laden matchup. The Pens need to break their streak of consecutive streak of too many men on the ice penalties. The Washington PK has been sturdy, so Pittsburgh is going to have to raise their level to hang in this game.