Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (0-1-0, 0 points, Metropolitan Division) @ Washington Capitals (0-0-0, 0 points, Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:30pm E.T.
How to Watch: ESPN+ and Hulu exclusive — this is one of the four games on the season that is “streaming only” and not broadcast on traditional TV.
Pens’ Path Ahead: The Pens will have to jet home in a hurry, Calgary is already waiting in Pittsburgh for tomorrow night’s game. Then Pittsburgh gets a three-day break before a quick trip to the Midwest for two games next week (@Detroit on Wednesday, @St. Louis next Saturday 10/21).
Opponent Track: Tonight is season-opener for the Caps. Their schedule starts slow, they get two more days off following tonight before Washington will finally be back in action for their second game Monday when they host Calgary. After that for Washington is three games against Atlantic Division teams (@Ottawa, @Montreal, Toronto).
Season Series: Get a good look at the Caps tonight, you won’t see them play the Penguins again in 2023. The two teams lock up on Tuesday January 2nd in Pittsburgh, then again on March 4th in PA before a final meeting back in DC near the end of the season on April 4th to finish out their four-game set in 2023-24.
Last Year: The Pens went 2-0-1 in three contests against the Capitals.
Recent History: Credit to Pens PR for passing along that the Penguins have points in 14 of their last 20 games against the Capitals (12-6-2).
Hidden Stat: Jake Guentzel has recorded 26 points (11G+15A) versus the Capitals with two game-winning goals in 23 games. He has points in six-straight games against Washington (3G+6A) dating back to Nov. 13, 2021.
Getting to know the Capitals
Projected Game Lines
(As seen at practice earlier this week)
Alex Ovechkin - Nick Backstrom - TJ Oshie
Connor McMichael - Evgeni Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Sonny Milano - Dylan Strome - Aliaksei Protas
Beck Malenstyn - Nic Dowd- Anthony Mantha
Rasmus Sandin / John Carlson
Lucas Johansen / Nick Jensen
Martin Fehervary / Trevor van Riemsdyk
Goalies: Darcy Kuemper / Charlie Lindgren
Possible scratches: Matthew Phillips, Alex Alexeyev
IR: Joel Edmundson (hand, out 4-6 weeks), Max Pacioretty (LTIR, expected to be out until at least November recovering from a second Achilles surgery)
—The Caps are going to start out riding again with Backstrom and Ovechkin re-united on what has to be the oldest line in the league. Backstrom, 36 next month, has had time to heal up after a major hip surgery and looked better in the preseason then he did last season. Is that a result of the less than 100% pace of the games and lower competition levels or a sign that the veteran has had enough time/training to catch back up? We’re about to find out. Oshie, 36, has also missed a heavy chunk of games lately (62 in the last two seasons) dealing with several major injuries of his own. Ovechkin, 38, has been the constant to find ways to score goals despite age chipping away at his all-around game.
—The Anthony Mantha for Jakub Vrana trade is one of the rare examples of a true lose-lose deal. (The even deeper cut is Detroit got a first round pick from Washington in that move, which they used to trade up for goalie Sebastien Cossa, who isn’t in the NHL yet. The pick they traded became Dallas’ Wyatt Johnston, who scored 41 points in the NHL in draft+2 as a 19-year old. Just L’s everywhere you look on that move). Anyways, Mantha is almost literally a professional waste of space in terms of a bloated $5.7 million cap hit that his play doesn’t justify and a 6’5”, 235 pound frame that has left multiple coaches and organizations wishing they could tap into getting more fire and energy from.
—It looks like Matthew Phillips will be a scratch tonight, which could be a good thing for the Pens. The diminutive 25-year old (listed at 5’8” and 160 pounds) has been among the AHL’s highest scorers for the last two seasons in Calgary’s organization. Phillips got a chance to shine in the preseason with a new team and did just that, clawing his way onto the roster with a standout exhibition season. It will be interesting to see if he’s able to make an impact on the NHL roster despite his size.
Did the Caps do enough?
From Shayna Goldman in The Athletic:
A coaching change followed in the offseason, with Washington bringing in one of the top up-and-coming options in Spencer Carberry. But the Capitals didn’t get aggressive after that, despite having draft capital at their disposal. GM Brian MacLellan’s big moves, instead, consisted of signing free agent Max Pacioretty, extending Tom Wilson a year early and trading for Joel Edmundson.
At this point, that doesn’t look to be enough to return to the playoffs.
The Capitals, as it stands, project to an 81-point season that would land them 25th in the league. And their hopes of the playoffs stand at a lowly six percent.
The problem is that this roster doesn’t look that much better than last year’s, which wasn’t a playoff lock in the first place.
The Penguins and Capitals have often looked like mirror images of one another over the last 18 seasons, but made quite the divergence this past offseason. While the Pens made sweeping changes of their roster and added several new key players (Karlsson, Smith, Graves, whole new bottom-six), Washington elected to be about as static as a team could be personnel-wise.
They’ll hope for some growth and contributions from young players like McMichael and Protas, but otherwise are counting on an old, oft-injured group of veterans to not get injured and for new coach Spencer Carbery to breath new life into what’s become an tired bunch.
It’s difficult to see what the Caps are trying to accomplish. They’re building for the future with a core of young players like Sandin, McMichael, Ivan Miroshnichenko and 2023-first round pick Ryan Leonard, but they’re not exactly positioned to truly make a run for seriously competing for anything right now. Nor are they trying to aggressively get younger at the NHL level as Ovechkin makes his run to pass Wayne Gretzky (hey, need some skill to serve Ovi up the one-t’s).
Teams stuck in the middle that aren’t going for it but aren’t committed to tearing down in order to build back up always serve as interesting case studies. Washington is in a unique spot with Ovechkin’s historic chase, but at a time like this that side-quest appears a bigger priority than committing to a direction for the rest of the team.
And now for the Pens...
Infographic courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins:
Expected Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Reilly Smith - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Jansen Harkins - Lars Eller - Drew O’Connor
Matt Nieto - Noel Acciari - Jeff Carter
Ryan Graves / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Karlsson
P.O. Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry, Alex Nedeljkovic
Expected Scratches: John Ludvig, Ryan Shea
Season Opening IR: Will Butcher, Raivis Ansons
—Not that they have much alternatives with the current roster, but the Penguins practiced yesterday in Cranberry with the same line combinations as their opening night game on Tuesday before heading out on the short plane trip down to Washington.
—The two players on Pittsburgh’s IR are injured and expected to be assigned to the minors when healthy. They aren’t putting a cap hit against the Pens, but neither have yet to resume skating so they might be sticking around technically for a while longer.
Sid vs Ovi, Round 66
Tomorrow, for the 66th time, it's Crosby vs. Ovechkin.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 12, 2023
Crosby on Ovechkin: "Just having the opportunity all of these years to go up against him - to be in the same division, and have that matchup, it's probably brought the best out of both of us." pic.twitter.com/8IWYTdCyc7
Crosby and Ovechkin each enter their 19th season, having just about done and seen it all as the two faces of the league coming out of the lockout almost two decades ago.
From the Pens:
The two have taken part in 65 head-to-head matchups, where Crosby and the Penguins have gone 38-23-4 against Ovechkin and the Capitals.
Not only is the Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry one of the NHL’s best, but it’s also the league’s longest-standing rivalry. Crosby and Ovechkin are the only two players in the NHL to play for the same team since the beginning of the 2005-06 season.
The two have combined to win four Stanley Cups, five Hart trophies (regular-season MVP) three Art Ross trophies (most points), 11 Rocket Richard trophies (most goals), three Conn Smythe awards (playoff MVP) and six Ted Lindsay awards (most outstanding player) among other awards.
Crosby – 1,191 GP 1,503 PTS
Games with 0 PTS – 350
Games with 1+ PTS – 841
Games with 2+ PTS – 447
Games with 3+ PTS – 170
Ovie – 1,347 GP 1,485 PTS
Games with 0 PTS – 446
Games with 1+ PTS – 901
Games with 2+ PTS – 417
Games with 3+ PTS – 131
Crosby having multi-point games in 37.5% of the games in his career is astounding. Ovechkin, no slouch himself, checks in at 30.9%. In any given game Crosby is more likely to have two points instead of none at all which speaks to the consistency he’s gone about his business. Crosby ranks 11th all-time in multi-point career games, Ovechkin 12th.
Eller’s switching sides
Lars Eller is set to face the Capitals for the first time since being acquired from them at the trade deadline.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 12, 2023
Eller: "It will be fun. I am looking forward to it. I'm going to be fired up, our whole team is... I'm looking forward to going there and trying to get two points." pic.twitter.com/exMKkLj2nx
Lars Eller is about to join the long list of names to take part in the Pittsburgh/Washington rivalry from both benches. Over the years names like Sergei Gonchar, Matt Cooke, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Brent Johnson, Tomas Vokoun, Eric Fehr, Carl Hagelin, Justin Schultz, Conor Sheary and so many others have played for both clubs. Unlike the rest, Eller has a special spot in Washington lore for scoring a Cup-clinching goal and now finds himself on the other side of the rivalry for his first trip back to DC as a visitor since his stint with the Caps.
Offseason acquisition Lars Eller returns to Capital One Arena for the first time since being traded from Washington at the trade deadline last season. Eller played parts of seven seasons with the Capitals from 2016-23, and was an instrumental part of Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup Championship, notching a career-high 18 points (7G+11A) during that postseason run. During his tenure in Washington, only six Capitals recorded more points than him:
Capitals Point Leaders (2016-23)
Player GP PTS
Alex Ovechkin 508 519
Evgeny Kuznetsov 501 428
John Carlson 473 394
Nicklas Backstrom 445 390
T.J. Oshie 435 309
Tom Wilson 449 245
Lars Eller 488 208
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward has played parts of the last 14 seasons with Colorado, Washington, Montreal and St. Louis, totaling 372 points (163G+209A) in 955 career games. Eller has recorded 10-plus goals in nine seasons and 30-plus points in five seasons.