Who: Washington Capitals (38-22-10, 86 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (41-21-10, 86 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: ESPN+/ABC
Opponent Track: While the Penguins were busy losing six of their last eight, the Capitals were slumping in solidarity by dropping four of their last seven (a lucky thing for Pittsburgh, or they might be eyeing a wild card spot right now.) In Washington’s last outing, however, they defeated the defending champion Lightning 4-3 in regulation.
Pens Path Ahead: 25 hours after puck drop, the Penguins do it all over again, this time against the visiting Nashville Predators on Sunday. Next week, they’re set for home-and-away sets against the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.
Hidden Stat: As per Caps’ SBN counterpart Japers’ Rink, this is the 118th time these two teams have met in Pittsburgh. Overall, the Penguins have emerged with 66 wins and a .564 point percentage.
Season Series: Today, the Pens will look to draw even with the Caps in the season series. The Penguins lost 6-1 in Washington on November 13 before getting revenge with a 4-2 win on December 10; on February 1, the two teams went to overtime, where Dmitry Orlov scored with 43 seconds left to win it 4-3 for the Caps.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Japers’ Rink
—For good reason, Auston Matthews has been dominating headlines for his 56 goals in 66 games. But after a 24-goal 2020-21 season, Alex Ovechkin has returned to being one of the best goalscorers in the NHL. He is one of seven NHL players, heading into Friday, to score 40 goals so far this season.
—During the Capitals’ recent slump, Vitek Vanecek is 1-4-0 with a .863 save percentage through five starts. Goaltending seems like it will be a concern for Washington heading into the playoffs, but because Ilya Samsonov performed well against the Lightning this week, we can expect the Capitals to turn to him Saturday.
Wednesday Practice Lines*
*There is a “bug” going around on both teams. Lines are subject to change.
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Conor Sheary
Anthony Mantha - Nicklas Bäckström - Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson - Connor McMichael - TJ Oshie
Lars Eller - Nic Dowd - Johan Larsson
Martin Fehervary / John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov / Nick Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk / Justin Schultz
Goalies: Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek
Scratches: Michael Kempny, Garnet Hathaway, Aexl Jonsson-Fjallby, Matt Irwin
IR: Carl Hagelin, Joe Snively
(Alternatively, here are Friday’s practice lines for the Capitals:)
Laviolette wasn't sure if this is the way the lines will be tomorrow in Pittsburgh (he was asked specifically about Eller at LW).— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) April 8, 2022
Said it will depend on who they have available. Flu bug is going around. (For Penguins and some other teams, too.) https://t.co/F62Mp3zES5
Advanced stats matchup
—Pittsburgh’s finishing stats just keep getting redder. As the Penguins near the playoffs with four seasons of early exits behind them, it’s starting to feel like a concern...
—Washington’s goaltending is their biggest question mark. Ilya Samsonov, who seems likely to get the start Saturday, is 3-0-0 in his last four starts— but has earned a sub-.900 save percentage in each of them.
And now for the Pens..
Predicted Game Lines
No practice Friday; Crosby, Marino and Zohorna out with non-COVID illnesses Thursday; assuming the sick players are back, here’s a potential lineup...
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Rickard Rakell - Evgeni Malkin - Jeff Carter
Evan Rodrigues - Teddy Blueger - Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen - Brian Boyle - Anthony Angello
*Jason Zucker is a game-time decision. If he plays, he will likely slot in on Malkin’s wing, shuffle Carter to the third line and bump Angello from the fourth.
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Goalies: Tristan Jarry, Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Radim Zohorna
IR: Brock McGinn (week-to-week, upper body), Nathan Beaulieu (LTIR)
—There’s something in the air, and it’s certainly not love: some kind of non-COVID illness is affecting both team’s rosters, and former linemates Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary have it. That, combined with Jason Zucker’s day-to-day status, means Saturday’s lineup announcement will be a fun surprise for us all. Mike Sullivan will meet with media at 1pm Saturday.
—Here’s some excellent analysis from The Athletic’s Jesse Marshall of what’s been going wrong in the Penguins’ system lately:
It's way too late in the season to see fundamental failures in the system like this one. This is a clear-cut example of what I mean when I say no forecheck means instant death in this system. Plain as day right here. This is off of a controlled breakout. pic.twitter.com/bNsX4PmWs0— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 8, 2022
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby is three points away from No. 1,400 in his career and one point behind Jari Kurri for 22nd place in the NHL’s all-time scoring list.
- All active point streaks were snapped during Thursday’s 3-0 shutout by the Rangers. Time to start fresh!
- Evgeni Malkin sits one assist away from No. 700, which would make him the 57th NHL player in history to reach the milestone.