Who: Washington Capitals (6-3-3, 15 points, 3rd place Eastern Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (6-5-11, 13 points, 5th place in the Eastern Division)
When: 3:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: Nationally televised in America on NBC
Opponent Track: The Caps have been off since last Sunday, getting three games last week cancelled due to excessive COVID issues with Philadelphia and Buffalo. It was a good time for a break for Washington, who have lost in regulation all three games they’ve played in February to three different opponents (PHI, BOS, NYR). The Caps stick around (hopefully socially distancing this time) and play the Pens again on Tuesday night.
Pens path ahead: It’s game 3 of 10 for only playing the Caps or Islanders for the Pens this month. Today and Tuesday, as mentioned, Washington is in the ‘Burgh. The Pens then host NYI on Thursday and Saturday of this week, before Pittsburgh travels down to DC next week for road games next Tuesday (2/23) and Thursday (2/25). The Pens then stay on the road and go back to the Island for two more road games @NYI to close out the month.
Season Series: The Pens took a 4-3 shootout decision back on January 17th, and then Sidney Crosby tallied the OT winner two days later. This week are Games 3 and 4 of the PIT/WSH season series, with Games 5/6 coming up next week in DC. Then it will be a long while before the schedule between the two concludes with Games 7 and 8 on April 29th and May 1st, also in DC.
Recent History: The Pens are 8-2-0 vs. the Caps at home in the last 10 games, and 4-1-0 vs. Washington since the start of the 2019-20 season (with the Caps being 1-2-2 on their side of the results with some OT/SO losses).
SBN Team Counterpart: It’s our friends at Japers Rink for review of and comment upon the news.
Player Stats at a Glance
—Justin Schultz has started out well but missed the last four games with an injury. As we’ll see below, he practiced yesterday and is expected to be in the lineup today.
—It feels like a lot of the Pens’ top veteran players started slow in the pandemic season without much of a preseason. Same can’t be said for the Caps’ vets with Backstrom and Ovechkin getting off to very productive starts, doubly impressive considering Ovechkin’s season was interrupted by a seven day quarantine for being in close contact with Samsonov.
—Lots of unique goal scorers in this game. Washington is 2nd in the NHL with 18 different players who have recorded a goal so far this year (Columbus, 20, is first). The Pens have 16 different goal scorers on the season.
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - TJ Oshie
Richard Panik - Lars Eller - Conor Sheary
Carl Hagelin - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Brendon Dillon / John Carlson
Zdeno Chara / Justin Schultz
Dmitry Orlov / Nick Jensen
Possible starting goalie: ?
Scratches: Daniel Sprong, Jonas Siegenthaler, Trevor van Riemsdyk
IR: Michal Kempny (LTIR), Henrik Lundqvist (LTIR)
—Samsonov has not played since Jan. 17 against the Pens due to his recovery from a reported positive COVID test. Coach Peter Laviolette did say he expects a “full compliment” of players though, good news for the Caps considering Kuznetsov has been out since Jan 19th for similar reasons.
And now for the Pens..
—The number of goals that Crosby and Malkin score in day games is really astounding. Great players score a lot of goals in any split you can think of, but they’ve definitely showed up for the typically nationally televised matinee games.
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Drew O’Connor- Mark Jankowski - Colton Sceviour
P.O Joseph / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / John Marino
Chad Ruhwedel / Cody Ceci
Announced starting goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Yannick Weber
IR: Juuso Riikola, Marcus Pettersson, Evan Rodrigues, Brian Dumoulin, Jared McCann
Taxi Squad: Alex D’Orio, Maxime Lagace, Anthony Angello, Kevin Czucman
—Marcus Pettersson could be a possibility to play as soon as today but that won’t be known until closer to game time. As of yesterday he wasn’t cleared to play in games, but he is practicing with contact so it wont be too much longer now.
—After playing well on Thursday, it should be DeSmith’s crease for another game. DeSmith is also 2-0 against the Caps so far this season, starting and winning both of the PIT/WSH games. He did, however, give up a total of seven goals in those games.
Mike Sullivan said syke, he’s playing Tristan Jarry today
Protecting the Paint Can
There are no fans currently in the stands, but the Pens have been much better at home than on the road so far this season. So perhaps fortunately the next four games are all at PPG Paints Arena. From the team’s PR department:
The Penguins return home to PPG Paints Arena where they’ll play their next four games before departing on a four-game road trip. Pittsburgh (4-0-0) remains one of just four teams without a loss of any kind at home along with the Tampa Bay Lightning (6-0-0), Boston Bruins (4-0-0) and Carolina Hurricanes (3-0-0). Below is a look at the team’s stats at home and their NHL ranks:
Stat Total Rank
Points % 1.00 T-1st
Goals/GM 3.50 13th
Power Play % 33.3 10th
Shots Against/GM 27.3 T-6th
Faceoff % 57.6 2nd
3 keys to the game:
- Offense come to life.. The Pens scoring a lot of goals has never really been a problem against the Capitals. Pittsburgh is averaging 4.8 goals in the last 10 games against the Caps, and they’ve averaged 4.5 goals/game in two games this year (although that counts a shootout goal). Whether it’s been Vitek Vanecek (whose performance has dropped off in February after winning NHL rookie of the month in January) or Ilya Samsonov, Pittsburgh has lit the goal lamp with regularity.
- Jump on ‘em early. The Caps have been off for a week, can the Pens jump on them early? It might be more difficult than that — Washington has outscored opponents 15-10 in the first period this season. The Pens are being outscored 12-19 in the first, and have been trailing at the first intermission in an astounding and troubling 9 out of 12 games so far. However, early period leads might not need much: the Caps have won just 2 out of 7 games when leading after the first period (2-2-3 record) and the Pens have battled back for a 4-4-1 record when trailing after one.
- Powerplay struggles..again. The Pens’ power play has still been big time on the schnide, now 1-22 in the last eight games, while allowing 2 SHG against in this stretch. They won’t be getting a lot of grace, Washington’s power play ranks tops in the league clicking at a 37.0% rate right now. If the Pens have yet another 0-fer game on the PP, they’re probably not going to win today.