Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (4-6-2, 10 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division) @ Washington Capitals (6-6-2, 14 points, 6th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: Nationally broadcast game on TNT, Sling TV
Opponent Track: The Caps enter tonight after breaking a four-game losing streak (0-2-2) by holding on for a 5-4 win over Edmonton on Monday night. It was an impressive win with a four-point game by Evgeny Kuznetsov (2G+2A) and one where their power play struck for four goals.
Pens Path Ahead: It’s back to the Great White North this weekend for the concluding games of this quick three-game roadie for the Pens. Pittsburgh is up in Toronto on Friday night and then jet over to Montreal for a prime time Hockey Night in Canada contest against Montreal on Saturday. After that, the Pens get two days off before hosting the Maple Leafs next Tuesday
Season Series: The Pens are back in DC on Thursday January 26th and then sadly the Capitals only make one (regular season) trip to Pittsburgh this season all the way out on Saturday March 25th. Teams cycle through playing division opponents three times a season, occasionally, and unfortunately this is the year of one less PIT/WSH game than the normal four.
Getting to know the Capitals
SB Nation counterpart: Japers Rink
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Conor Sheary
Sonny Milano - Dylan Strome - Marcus Johansson
Anthony Mantha - Lars Eller - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Aliaksei Protas - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Martin Fehervary / Nick Jensen
Erik Gustafsson / Trevor van Riemsdyk
Lucas Johansen / Matt Irwin
Goalies: Darcy Kuemper (Charlie Lindgren)
Scratches: Dmitri Orlov (injured), Connor McMichael, Joe Snively
IR: Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Carl Hagelin, Connor Brown, T.J. Oshie, Beck Malenstyn, John Carlson
—For a team that had been very charmed and durable over the last decade when its come to injuries, the bill has come due for the Capitals in that regard. Last game against Edmonton, Washington played with over $40 million on the shelf.
—John Carlson (who has missed the last five games with an undisclosed lower body injury) and Dmitry Orlov (out since Saturday with an LBI) were both on the ice for an optional skate yesterday. Either or both could be in the lineup tonight.
—In a season where so much has been missing, Alex Ovechkin remains the constant for Washington. He scored goal No. 788 on Monday night and though his speed has gone away and much of his game has changed drastically with age, the 37-year old is still as lethal from ever hanging around the left side of the ice and firing the puck. Ovechkin currently has 1,423 career points, the same as Sidney Crosby — the two rivals just can never stay very far apart on the scoring list.
—Kuznetsov has chipped in some assists this season, but only scored his first two goals of the season on Monday. The Caps desperately need more out of him, considering all that they are missing and seven points in the first 12 games wasn’t cutting it. A hot and cold player, this might be a bad time for the Pens to be seeing Kuznetsov after putting up a four-point performance vs EDM. if he is embarking on a bender (no pun intended, ok maybe a little bit of a pun intended).
—Aliaksei Protas can be a very fun player to watch. At 6’6, 225, he will remind Penguin fans in stature and playing style a lot of the departed Radim Zohorna as a big guy who gets around the ice in an impressive manner for his size and also can make a play with his hands. Unlike Zohorna, who didn’t come to North America until he was 24, the 21-year old Protas is already beginning his third season on this side of the pond.
Head to head
—If ever there was a night to stay out of the damn penalty box, tonight would be it. With all their injuries and depleted lineups, the Capitals have not been a very impressive 5v5 team this year. But they still can make you pay when they go to the power play. The Pens’ penalty kill has given them big problems with its ineffectiveness. The fewer Washington power play chances, the better. That’s an obvious enough statement that never is going to be false — but for a team looking like the way they do (four PPG last game) and the Pens’ PK looking like it does, it’s also never been more true.
—And, that said, Pittsburgh has been short-handed 41 times in 12 games so far this season (3.4 per game). That is up quite a bit from last season’s 212 times short-handed in 82 games (2.6 per game). Discipline to keep sticks in proper position will be a huge key in this game.
—Paying a goalie big money to join a new team doesn’t always mean big time success (see Philipp Grubauer with SEA last year, or Jack Campbell in EDM this year) but so far Darcy Kuemper has been as solid as expected for the Caps. Washington has been searching for a steady No. 1 goalie since the Braden Holtby days and it looks like they have found the right one in Kuemper. The Caps’ defense has not been that great in preventing chances (21st in 5v5 as seen above xGA) but Kuemper has been very solid with a .919 overall save% and a cumulative of +4.2 Goals Saved Above Average. Kuemper is a huge part of the reason the Caps are even at .500 to start this season and hanging tough until they hope reinforcements can arrive.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Filip Hallander - Ryan Poehling - Josh Archibald
Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang
P.O. Joseph / Jeff Petry
Brian Dumoulin / Jan Rutta
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Chad Ruhwedel, Sam Poulin, Kasperi Kapanen
IR: Teddy Blueger
—The Pens have been shuffling the deck more and more in recent days and games on the left side of their defense, and at this point it looks like the days of Dumoulin as a first pair player are over. It’s more desperation to give Pettersson and Joseph a bigger role, but at this point it’s necessary.
—Speaking of, based on line rushes yesterday, if Kasperi Kapanen isn’t a healthy scratch tonight, he’s at least flirting with it quite heavily. Kapanen doesn’t have a goal since opening night, and hasn’t had a point in seven straight games. He only has seven total shots on goal in the last seven games as well, and no multi-shot efforts. Just isn’t going to the net or making very much with the puck right now.
—One player who has been playing well is Hallander, albeit in the minors. Hallander was leading Wilkes-Barre with nine points (4G+5A) in 10 games down in the AHL. The Pens have been desperate to get more of a spark or some contributions from the bottom-six in general, and though Hallander is not going to wow with energy or skating ability, he is a very sound player that could have something to offer for a team that really could use it.
Power play re-config?
The Pens’ power play is five very talented players out there doing....well, sometimes we’re not sure what they’re doing. It’s not truly a 1-3-1, there’s no dedicated net-front type. Sometimes Malkin and Crosby interchange and float around, but often it doesn’t seem like the group has any set focus or idea in mind of who they want to get pucks to and where they want everyone to be for it to happen.
Pittsburgh’s power play is at 20.0% for the season, but only 4-for-26 (15.4%) in the last seven games. That dry spell has gone hand-in-hand with the losing streak, and not so coincidentally either. With a few days off to rest and practice, the strategy isn’t going to look completely different but might have some refinement.
Jake Guentzel said emphasis will be for him and Bryan Rust to be at/near front of next on PP as Penguins’ top players — Crosby, Malkin & Letang — have been practicing with shot-approach last few days.— Rob Rossi (@Real_RobRossi) November 8, 2022
We’ll see if anything positive comes out of it, but the idea is about as good as the team can muster. Get Guentzel and Rust to the net, let the three stars (Crosby, Malkin, Letang) work the puck around and look to shoot when they get a lane, with the possibility for some cleanup in front by the pair up front. It’s never that simple, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as they make it look sometimes either.