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Game Preview: Washington Capitals @ Pittsburgh Penguins 1/2/2024 - Lines, how to watch

Bryan Rust could make his return tonight against some old friends.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Washington Capitals (17-11-6, 40 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (18-13-4, 40 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division)

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: National streaming game only on ESPN+/Hulu in all markets

Pens’ Path Ahead: The Pens play every other day for the rest of week, heading to Boston Thursday to face the Bruins before returning home Saturday to greet the Buffalo Sabres.

Opponent Track: The Capitals head into the new year having lost four straight, mostly recently a 3-2 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators Saturday at home.

Season Series: The Pens earned their first win of the season against the Caps with a 4-0 shutout featuring two Sidney Crosby power-play goals back on Oct. 13. After tonight, the old rivals have two more games coming up this season in March and April.

Hidden Stat: The Capitals have not yet won this game on the season (0-5-1) when trailing after the first period on the road.

Getting to know the Capitals

Projected lines

FORWARDS

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson

Aliaksei Protas - Connor McMichael - Anthony Mantha

Hendrix Lapierre - Dylan Strome - Matthew Phillips

Beck Melenstyn - Nic Dowd - Nicolas Aubé-Kubel

DEFENSEMEN

Martin Fehérváry - John Carlson

Rasmus Sandin - Trevor van Riemsdyk -

Joel Edmundson - Ethan Bear

Goalies: Hunter Shepard - Darcy Kuemper

Possible scratches: Alexander Alexeyev, Nick Jensen, Charlie Lindgren (injured)

IR: TJ Oshie, Sonny Milano, Nicklas Bäckström, Max Pacioretty

  • The Capitals moved Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is still a Capital despite reportedly requesting a trade, from center to first-line right winger in an effort to mix things up during Monday night’s loss to the Predators.

“It was awesome. It’s a different feeling, absolutely. You see hockey absolutely from different angle. And it was fun for me.” — Kuznetsov on the position change, via RMNB’s Katie Adler

The shift might be short-lived, since Kuznetsov practiced back at center yesterday, but shows how unsettled the Caps’ lines are at the moment as they look for the right placement to get their mercurial Russian player in the right spot to best help.

  • Defenseman Martin Fehérváry, injured Friday against the Islanders, could be back tonight, per the Washington Post’s Bailey Johnson.

Player stats

(via hockeydb)

  • The Capitals are on a downswing now, but they were outperforming their underlying stats even before their current losing streak. The team is scoring an average of 2.29 goals per game, the fewest of any team other than the San Jose Sharks.

Part of the reason the Capitals were able to stay afloat despite minimal scoring was their goaltending, but that will be a problem now that said goaltender Charlie Lindgren will be out after suffering an injury Friday against the Islanders. Lindgren had a .928 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average in 15 appearances before his injury.

Now the Capitals are staffed with Darcy Kuemper (.892 SV%, 3.16 GAA through 18 games) and AHL call-up Hunter Shepard (whose shootout loss to the Predators Saturday marked his third career start.)

That’s a problem for the Capitals because...

  • Alex Ovechkin has just seven goals through 34 games, including a recent 14-game cold streak. That puts him on pace for just 16 goals through a full season, which would beat out his 24 goals in the shortened 2020-21 season as his fewest ever.

What’s going on? It’s a combination of what is currently a career-low 5.6 percent shooting accuracy rate, and a decline in high-danger scoring chances.

“I wasn’t [concerned] at the beginning of the year. I would say a little bit as of late. At the beginning of the year, I felt like he was getting a lot of chances, and so that’s okay, right? When you’re getting chances, eventually — goal scorers will go through ups and downs, but if you’re getting chances, eventually they’ll start to go in. As of late, those have started to dry up other than off of faceoffs, and obviously I take special teams out of it. That’s what’s concerning.”— Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery on Dec. 8, at which point Ovechkin had scored five goals including two empty-netters, via the Post’s Johnson

  • Ovechkin’s not the only one struggling to score in Washington this season. The team only has three ten-goal scorers (Dylan Strome, Anthony Mantha and Tom Wilson.)

And now for the Penguins

Projected lines (without Bryan Rust)

FORWARDS

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell

Reilly Smith - Evgeni Malkin - Valtteri Puustinen

Radim Zohorna - Lars Eller - Drew O’Connor

Jansen Harkins - Noel Acciari - Jeff Carter

DEFENSEMEN

Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang

Ryan Graves / Erik Karlsson

John Ludvig / Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies: Tristan Jarry, Alex Nedeljkovic

Potential scratches: P.O. Joseph, Vinnie Hinostroza

IR: Matt Nieto (lower body injury), Bryan Rust (eligible to return today)

  • Bryan Rust is eligible to return from IR today. If he makes it back, he will likely bump Harkins from the lineup. If Rust is back, will he slot in on the first line with Crosby and Guentzel, or will Sullivan keep Rakell in a position where he has begun to recover from his earlier-season production slump?
  • The Pens had a scheduled off day yesterday, so there were no early signs yet about Rust’s availability.