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Will being in the same division make this rivalry even more fierce?
The Washington Capitals will be reunited with so many old rivals this season. Without question, though, realignment will thrust the Caps together with their biggest rival of all on a regular basis.
I am, of course, talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There is such history between these two teams. It is a rivalry that has actually been raging for the better part of the past quarter century. Many modern hockey fans believe that the Caps vs. Pens rivalry began with Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. That is far from the case.
It was actually back in 1991 when the two teams met in the playoffs for the first time. The Pens easily dispatched the Caps in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games, en route to their first Stanley Cup.
The teams have actually met in the playoffs a stunning eight times. Even more surprising is the fact that the Penguins have won the series seven of eight times. Twice they have overcome a 3-1 series deficit, and twice more they were able to climb out of a 2-0 series hole.
The rivalry took on a new dimension in 2004 when the Caps drafted Alexander Ovechkin No. 1 overall and the Pens took his countryman Evgeni Malkin with the second pick. Then, when the Pens drafted Sidney Crosby No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft, it was game-on between these two teams.
The two teams played one of the all-time great playoff series during the 2009 NHL playoffs and then staged one of the most memorable Winter Classic games so far in 2011.
This past season, the Pens dominated the Caps winning all three matchups between the two teams. The first two battles were particularly lopsided.
As for the ongoing rivalry between Ovechkin and Crosby, that should only intensify with Ovi beating out Crosby for the Hart Trophy but Crosby winning the Ted Lindsay award, the players version of the Hart Trophy.
Regardless of that, the Caps simply do not match up well against the Pens, not at all. The Pens were the most offensively deadly team in the NHL this past season, leading the league by scoring 3.38 goals-per-game.
You want goal-scorers? The Pens had three of the top 30 in Chris Kunitz (22), James Neal (21) and Pascal Dupuis (20).
Crosby was tied with Ovechkin for fourth in the NHL in points, with 56. Had Malkin not missed about 17 games due to injury, you can rest assured he would have been at the top of the leader boards as well.
To say the Pens are loaded is an understatement. With the exception of Ovechkin, the Caps simply do not have anywhere close to the offensive might of the Pens.
Defensively, things are a bit closer. The Pens gave up 2.48 goals per game as compared to the Caps 2.71. The Pens do not have a goal-scoring defensive threat like Mike Green. Paul Martin came closest with six goals, but that is half the number Green scored even though they both played almost the same number of games.
Brooks Orpik is one of the best hitting defensemen in the NHL, as he finished 11th in this category with 119 hits. The Pens probably need more of that this coming season, as they were bullied by the Boston Bruins quite a bit in that four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Orpik is also an excellent shot-blocker, as he was ninth in the NHL with 114 blocks on the season. Again, John Carlson is the better shot-blocker, but the gap is not quite as wide here. It is interesting to note though that in the playoffs, Martin was the best shot-blocker for the Pens.
Goaltending, however, was an adventure for Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury was ineffective and was replaced by Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun played as well as he possibly could, but the Pens scored no goals for him against the Bruins. As good as Vokoun was, Tuukka Rask was just better.
During the regular season, Fleury was the better of the two with a 23-8-0 record, with 2.39 goals-against-average and a .916 save percentage.
Braden Holtby's numbers compare quite favorably to Fleury's as he had the same number of wins and a slightly better save percentage at .920.
All of that aside, though, the Penguins just have too much firepower for the Caps right now and the Caps do not have the defensive players, or skill level, to play the style of game the Bruins played, which is really what you have to do to beat the Penguins.
Until that changes, look for the Pens to continue to dominate this matchup.