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The Pittsburgh Penguins' Toughest Opponents for the 2010-11 NHL Season

Alison MyersCorrespondent INovember 11, 2016

The Pittsburgh Penguins' Toughest Opponents for the 2010-11 NHL Season

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Almost every NHL player or coach will tell you that each opponent is difficult to go up against for some reason. There is no such thing as an "easy" opponent, no matter how many times you beat them on the scoreboard.

    But for each team, some opponents are harder to play than others. Whether it is because of a long-standing rivalry or facing a rematch against the team that defeated you in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, some opponents inspire players to leave it all on the ice.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins will play every team in the NHL at least once in the 2010-11 season. With the opening of the Consol Energy Center and a second appearance in the Winter Classic, there is plenty to be excited about.

    I have chosen 11 teams that I feel will give the Penguins their biggest challenges this year. This list was based on how the Penguins fared against these opponents in the 2009-10 regular season. We'll also look at which players who were important to the series and other players who can be Penguin killers.

    By the way, Pens fans, although I understand that the videos in this slideshow do not show the Penguins' best moments, that is the point. It is necessary to remember who gave us the most problems last year to look ahead to this year, and watching happy Penguins moments won't do that.

What To Expect from the Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Vital Stats

    2009-2010 Record: 47-28-7 (101 points; fourth in Eastern Conference, second in Atlantic Division)

    Goals For: 249 (ranked fifth in the NHL)

    Goals Against: 235 (20th)

    Power Play: 17.2 percent (19th)

    Penalty Kill: 84.1 percent (ninth)


    Key Players

    Sidney Crosby tied for the NHL goal scoring lead with 51 goals and tied for second in overall scoring with 109 points.

    Evgeni Malkin was second on the Pens with 77 points and had seven game winning goals, ranking fourth in the NHL in the category.

    Jordan Staal was nominated for the Selke Trophy this year. He finished the season with 49 points and a plus-19 rating.

    Kris Letang had 27 points this year, posting his second consecutive 20-point season.

    Brooks Orpik, a physical presence on the ice for the Pens, had his best statistical season this year with 25 points. He also posted a plus-six rating.

    Marc-Andre Fleury had a record of 37-21-6 last year. His 37 wins were eighth in the NHL. He also had a .905 save percentage and 2.65 GAA.

    Brent Johnson was a solid backup to Fleury last season. In 23 games, he had a record of 10-6-1 with a .906 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    October 14, 2009: Penguins 3-Hurricanes 2 (shootout)

    December 7, 2009: Hurricanes 3-Penguins 2

    March 11, 2010: Hurricanes 4-Penguins 3 (overtime)

    March 20, 2010: Hurricanes 3-Pittsburgh 2 (overtime)


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Pascal Dupuis and Evgeni Malkin (four points in four games)

    Hurricanes: Ray Whitney (seven points in four games)


    2009-2010 Carolina Stats

    Goals For: 226 (ranked 13th in the NHL)

    Goals Against: 251 (26th)

    Power Play: 16.9 percent (22nd)

    Penalty Kill: 80.6 percent (19th)


    Key Players

    Eric Staal, the newest Canes captain, had 70 points and a plus-four in 70 games last season. He was the Canes' leading scorer and has posted at least 70 points every year he has been in the NHL. He was also ranked sixth in the league with 13 power play goals. 

    Jussi Jokinen had 65 points and a plus-three last year. He scored at least 50 points for the second time in his career.

    Tim Gleason recently completed his fourth season with the Canes. Last year, he had 19 points and an even rating.

    Cam Ward was not in goal during the Penguins' lone win of the season. However, he should be back to form next year after recovering from a leg injury. In 47 games in 2009-2010, he had a record of 18-23-5 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.69 GAA.

    Justin Peters will be a good backup when Ward is unable to go or needs a rest. He played nine games this year and posted a record of 6-3 with a .905 save percentage and a 2.83 GAA.


    Series Outlook

    The Canes took on the Penguins last year with every intention of getting back at the Pens for sweeping them in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.

    Sure enough, the Canes accomplished their mission and took three out of four games from Pittsburgh.

    With Jordan and Eric Staal on the Penguins and Canes respectively, this is always a key matchup for both teams.

    The hockey media loves it, comparing the two brothers at every opportunity.

    Ray Whitney, who did most of the damage to the Pens last year, left for the Phoenix Coyotes. But with Eric Staal and Jokinen still on board, the Penguins still have plenty of obstacles in their way.

    The Canes and the Pens are both resilient teams. Between the Canes being a Cinderella story of the 2009 playoffs and all of these games being one goal games, look for more of the same in 2010-2011. Each game will be a fight to the finish.


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    Saturday, October 30 at Carolina

    Friday, November 19 at Pittsburgh

    Saturday, January 22 at Pittsburgh

    Friday, February 25 at Carolina

Detroit Red Wings

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    January 31, 2010: Penguins 2-Red Wings 1 (shootout)

    March 22, 2010: Red Wings 3-Penguins 1


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (two points apiece)

    Red Wings: Henrik Zetterberg (four points)


    Red Wings 2009-2010 Statistics

    Goals For: 223 (14th in NHL)

    Goals Against: 207 (seventh)

    Power Play: 19.2 percent (ninth)

    Penalty Kill: 83.9 percent (10th)


    Key Players

    Pavel Datsyuk, the defending Selke Trophy winner, tied for Zetterberg for the team scoring lead with 70 points in 2009-2010. Both Zetterberg and Datsyuk are strong defensive forwards, posting a plus-17 and plus-12 rating respectively.

    Nicklas Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner, had 49 points and a plus-22 last year. 

    Jimmy Howard took the reins as the Wings' starting goalie in his first full NHL season. In 63 games, he had a record of 37-15-10.

    His 37 wins were tied for eighth in the NHL, while his .924 save percentage was ranked fourth and his 2.26 GAA was ranked fifth. 


    Series Outlook

    While the Penguins prefer to stack their team with young players and a few key veterans, Detroit prefers the older and wiser route.

    For example, Datsyuk is 32 years old, Lidstrom and newcomer Mike Modano are 40 years old, and Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby are 37.

    Many like to mock Detroit's older players, but the formula has worked for several years.

    However, the Wings do have several young, up-and-coming stars. Aside from Howard, forward Justin Abdelkader is 23 years old and had six points in 50 games. Back in 2009, he scored a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pens.

    Darren Helm also just played his first full NHL season. He had 24 points in 75 games.

    The rivalry between these two teams has intensified in the regular seasons following their meetings in the 2008 and 2009 Cup Finals. Both teams have several players locked up for the long term, so they will get to know each other even better for many years.


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    January 18, 2011: Red Wings at Penguins

    March 21, 2011: Penguins at Red Wings

Minnesota Wild

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    October 31, 2009: Wild 2-Penguins 1

    January 11, 2010: Wild 4-Penguins 3


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Pascal Dupuis and Sidney Crosby (three points)

    Wild: Guillaume Latendresse (four points)


    2009-2010 Wild Statistics

    Goals For: 214 (22nd)

    Goals Against: 239 (21st)

    Power Play: 19.1 percent (10th)

    Penalty Kill: 82.7 percent (14th)


    Key Players

    Martin Havlat had 54 points in the 2009-2010 season, his third 50-point season in the last five years.

    Mikko Koivu is the first permanent captain in Wild franchise history. He had 71 points last year.

    Cam Barker was traded to Minnesota from the Chicago Blackhawks. He had 21 points and a plus-five last year and already has one 40-point season under his belt (2008-2009 season). He will be with the Wild for the next two years.

    Niklas Backstrom has started at least 50 games in goal every year for the last three years. Last year,  he had a record of 26-23-8 in 60 games to go with a .903 save percentage and 2.72 GAA.


    Series Outlook

    Although the Wild missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year in 2009-2010, they had a pretty easy time figuring out how to beat the Penguins.

    Even though the Pens scored the first goal in the January 2010 matchup, Minnesota had an answer for everything. This included a controversial Sergei Gonchar hit on Cal Clutterbuck.

    The Wild were a more defensive minded team prior to the arrival of Todd Richards. Richards used to coach the Penguins' AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and preached a more offensive system. He is looking to do the same in Minnesota.

    Furthermore, he is not afraid to bench underperforming players.

    With Richards coming into his second season in Minnesota, and the Wild boasting their share of solid offensive players, the days of playing the trap are behind them, and the Penguins can expect to be matched goal-for-goal on the offense.


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    January 8, 2011: Wild at Penguins

Nashville Predators

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    February 14, 2010: Predators 4-Penguins 3 (shootout)


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Sidney Crosby (two points)

    Predators: Shea Weber and Marcel Goc (two points)


    Predators 2009-2010 Statistics

    Goals For: 217 (18th)

    Goals Against: 221 (14th)

    Power Play: 16.4 percent (24th)

    Penalty Kill: 77.1 percent (28th)


    Key Players

    Steve Sullivan and Patric Hormqvist tied for the team scoring lead in 2009-2010 with 51 points. Hormqvist also showcased his defensive abilities by posting a plus-18 rating, while Sullivan has posted at least 50 points in three out of his five seasons.

    Ryan Suter had his third 30-point season in 2009-2010 with 37 points. He also had a plus-four rating and has had a positive plus/minus in four out of five seasons. 

    Pekka Rinne is the Predators' starter in just his second year in the NHL. Last year, he had a record of 32-16-5 in 58 games while posting a .911 save percentage and 2.53 GAA.


    Series Outlook

    The Pens and the Preds do not meet often, but lately, the Pens have not been looking forward to this game.

    After blowing a 3-0 lead and losing 5-3 in the 2008-2009 season, the Pens saw the Preds ruin their Valentine's Day and send them to Olympic break on a low note.

    Dan Ellis, who left for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the offseason, was in goal during the Pens' 4-3 shootout loss this year.

    Nashville has made the playoffs in four out of five seasons since the NHL lockout.They have competed with elite teams such as the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks and have never gone down easy, losing both matches in six games.

    Their fanbase is growing, and they have plenty of underrated stars such as Weber, Suter, and Rinne to be excited about.

    The Penguins will have to go into the 2010-2011 matchup refusing to underrate the team while using the offensive powers in Crosby and Malkin that the Predators lack.


    2010-2011 Season Series

    October 21, 2010: Penguins at Predators

New Jersey Devils

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    October 24, 2009: Devils 4-Penguins 1

    November 12, 2009: Devils 4-Penguins 1

    December 21, 2009: Devils 4-Penguins 0

    December 30, 2009: Devils 2-Penguins 0

    March 12, 2010: Devils 3-Penguins 1

    March 17, 2010: Devils 5-Penguins 2


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Sidney Crosby (three points)

    Devils: Zach Parise (11 points)


    Devils 2009-2010 Statistics

    Goals For:  216 (19th)

    Goals Against: 186 (first; least goals allowed in the NHL)

    Power Play: 18.7 percent (11th)

    Penalty Kill: 82.8 percent (13th)


    Key Players

    Ilya Kovalchuk joined the Devils, and there was some big hoopla about his contract this summer. Whatever it was, it was solved, and Kovalchuk will be with the Devils until 2025. Last year, he had 85 points with the Atlanta Thrashers and the Devils.

    Travis Zajac had 67 points in 2009-2010 for the second 60-point season of his career. He also posted a plus-22 rating.

    Andy Greene scored five points in six games against the Penguins last year. He had 37 points and a plus-nine for the first 30-point season of his career.

    Martin Brodeur led the NHL in both wins (45) and shutouts (nine) this past season. He was also third with a 2.24 GAA, and his save percentage of .916 was the only statistical category he did not rank in the top 10 in.


    Series Outlook

    It's pretty hard to find anything positive about the way this series went last year. Many believe the Pens' inability to beat the Devils gave them a lower seeding than they could have had.

    You can say the Penguins played some close games with New Jersey, but being shutout twice in a little over a week and being held to five goals in six games is hard to be proud of.

    Brodeur is 38 years old, but he still plays like a 20-something spring chicken. He will be in the Penguins' hair for at least two more years, as his contract runs until 2012.

    Former Devils defenseman Paul Martin signed a five-year contract with the Penguins this offseason. He should be plenty familiar with the Devils' system and give the Pens some insight on how to solve the team.

    Hopefully, Dan Bylsma has reviewed his system this summer and can come up with a plan to beat New Jersey. Bylsma did not make many adjustments to the Pens' game over the six game series, even though it should have been clear a change was needed after the second or third loss.


    2010-2011 Season Series

    October 11, 2010: Penguins at Devils

    December 6, 2010: Devils at Penguins

    January 20, 2011: Penguins at Devils

    March 4, 2011: Penguins at Devils

    March 25, 2011: Devils at Penguins

    April 5, 2011: Devils at Penguins

Ottawa Senators

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Philadelphia Flyers

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    October 8, 2009: Penguins 5-Flyers 4

    December 15, 2009: Penguins 6-Flyers 1

    December 17, 2009: Penguins 3-Flyers 2 (shootout)

    January 7, 2010: Flyers 7-Penguins 4

    January 24, 2010: Penguins 2-Flyers 1

    March 27, 2010: Penguins 4-Flyers 1


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Sidney Crosby (10 points)

    Flyers: Jeff Carter (eight points)


    2009-2010 Flyers Statistics

    Goals For: 232 (eighth)

    Goals Against: 222 (15th)

    Power Play: 21.4 percent (third)

    Penalty Kill: 83 percent (11th)


    Key Players

    Mike Richards had six points against the Penguins in last year's six game series. He posted 62 points last year for his third consecutive 60-point season and ranked sixth in the NHL with 13 power play goals.

    Matt Carle tied with Richards to score six points against Pittsburgh. He had 35 points and a plus-19 rating last year during his first season in Philadelphia.

    Chris Pronger had 55 points and a plus-22 rating last year. He scored three points against the Pens in his third 50-point season in five years. This was also his first season in Philadelphia.


    Series Outlook

    Although last year's series favored the Penguins, their matchups with the Flyers are never easy. The two have been bitter rivals for several years, and every year, something happens to make things worse.

    Last year, Kris Letang said Scott Hartnell bit him in a fight in an early season game. The referee could not find any evidence to support this, and Hartnell was not penalized, which angered Pens fans.

    In a later game, Arron Asham stated that Matt Cooke bit him, but the claim was never investigated.

    This year, Asham has joined the Penguins on a one-year deal. Furthermore, the Flyers made it further than the Pens in the playoffs after the Penguins defeated them in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs.

    In 2010, the Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, while the Flyers lost to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    The Flyers will open the Consol Energy Center on October 7. 


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    October 7, 2010: Flyers at Penguins

    October 16, 2010: Penguins at Flyers

    October 29, 2010: Flyers at Penguins

    December 14, 2010: Penguins at Flyers

    March 24, 2011: Penguins at Flyers

    March 29, 2011: Flyers at Penguins

San Jose Sharks

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    November 7, 2009: Sharks 5-Penguins 0


    Series Leaders

    Jed Ortmeyer, Joe Pavelski, Manny Malhotra, and Dan Boyle (two points each)


    2009-2010 Sharks Statistics

    Goals For: 257 (fourth)

    Goals Against: 209 (eighth)

    Power Play: 21 percent (fourth)

    Penalty Kill: 85 percent (fifth)


    Key Players

    Joe Thornton had 89 points in 2009-2010 and was the team's leading scorer. His 69 assists were ranked second in the NHL. This was his sixth 80-point season. 

    Patrick Marleau has spent his entire 12-year career in San Jose. He had 83 points this year, and he was fourth in the NHL with 44 goals. He was also ranked third with four shorthanded goals.

    Marc-Edouard Vlasic had 16 points with a plus-21 rating last season.


    Series Outlook

    Whether it's the Pacific Time Zone or the Sharks' consistent domination of the NHL regular season, the Penguins cannot catch a  break against them.

    In 2008-2009, San Jose held the Penguins to just 11 shots on goal in one of their two matchups. This year, they blew them out of the water (no pun intended) in a 5-0 shutout.

    Both teams have outstanding offensive weapons. The Penguins just have to remember to use theirs.


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    February 23, 2011: Sharks at Penguins

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    October 17, 2009: Penguins 4-Lightning 1

    January 2, 2010: Lightning 3-Penguins 1

    March 4, 2010: Penguins 2-Lightning 1

    March, 31, 2010: Lightning 2-Penguins 0


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Sergei Gonchar and Sidney Crosby (three points each)

    Lightning: Steven Stamkos (five points)


    2009-2010 Lightning Statistics

    Goals For: 213 (23rd)

    Goals Against: 253 (27th)

    Power Play: 19.3 percent (eighth)

    Penalty Kill: 80.1 percent (22nd)


    Key Players

    Martin St. Louis scored four points against Pittsburgh in last year's series. He had 94 points in 2009-2010, which was the sixth best total in the NHL. His 65 assists were ranked fifth, and he also posted his third 90-point season by matching his point total from the 2003-2004 season.

    Former Penguins winger Ryan Malone had 47 points last year, his second season in Tampa Bay. He has had at least 40 points a year every year but once.

    Victor Hedman is another talented young player who just finished his first season with the Bolts. He had 20 points in 74 games.


    Series Outlook

    Stamkos and Crosby shared the 2010 Rocket Richard Trophy after they each scored 51 goals in the regular season. For Stamkos, that was quite the accomplishment for his rookie season. His confidence should be through the roof now that he knows he can compete with one of the top players in the game.

    The Lightning shut out the Pens in one of their matchups for the second season in a row. Each team scored seven goals in four games last year. Although Tampa did not make the playoffs, the Penguins are not significantly better than the Lightning.

    Steve Yzerman, in his first year as Tampa's General Manager, is getting the team ready to compete. He traded for high scoring forward Simon Gagne and also acquired goaltender Dan Ellis from the Predators.

    The Penguins are sure to have a problem with forward Steve Downie. Downie was third in the NHL with 208 penalty minutes, but was also a solid forward, scoring 46 points in 79 games.

    Downie laid a dangerous hit on Crosby last year, and although he was not penalized, it was widely believed that he was trying to injure Crosby.

    With Tampa looking more competitive for the coming season, look for this series to be closer than ever. I predict that neither team will have the upper hand and the series will be split two games apiece once again.


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    October 27, 2010: Penguins at Lightning

    November 12, 2010: Lightning at Penguins

    January 5, 2011: Lightning at Penguins

    March 31, 2011: Penguins at Lightning

Vancouver Canucks

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    January 16, 2010: Canucks 6-Penguins 2


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, and Jordan Staal (one point each)

    Canucks: Henrik Sedin (three points)


    2009-2010 Canucks Statistics

    Goals For: 268 (second)

    Goals Against: 218 (12th)

    Power Play: 20.9 percent (sixth)

    Penalty Kill: 81.6 percent (18th)


    Key Players

    Mason Raymond had his first 50-point season this year, finishing 2009-2010 with 53 points. He has been improving his statistics every year and had two points against the Pens back in January.

    Christian Ehrhoff had his second 40-point season, scoring 44 points last year. His plus-36 rating ranked fifth in the NHL.


    Series Outlook

    When the Penguins went to Vancouver, Marc-Andre Fleury was battling a finger injury, and John Curry, who had been called up from the AHL, was the starting goaltender.

    He was pulled in the middle of the Penguins' downfall, and Alexander Pechurskiy, a Penguins prospect on emergency recall from the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, came in.

    He only gave up one goal the rest of the way and was named the team's third star.

    Pechurskiy was so confused about what to do when he was named a star of the game that a representative of the team had to tell him what he had to do.

    Talk about weird.

    Of course, this should not be the story in 2010-2011.

    The Penguins have Crosby and Malkin. The Canucks have the Sedin twins. That should be enough offensive power to go around.

    But like the Sharks matchup, the Penguins need to make sure they use their offensive powers; otherwise, it will be another long game.


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    November 17, 2010: Canucks at Penguins

Washington Capitals

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    2009-2010 Season Series

    January 21, 2010: Capitals 6-Penguins 3

    February 7, 2010: Capitals 5-Penguins 4 (overtime)

    March 24, 2010: Capitals 4-Penguins 3 (shootout)

    April 6, 2010: Capitals 6-Penguins 3


    Series Leaders

    Penguins: Sidney Crosby (eight points)

    Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin (eight points)


    Capitals Statistics

    Goals For: 313 (first)

    Goals Against: 227 (16th)

    Power Play: 25.2 percent (first)

    Penalty Kill: 78.8 percent (25th)


    Key Players

    Nicklas Backstrom was fourth in the NHL with 101 points, and his 68 assists were ranked third. This was the first 100-point season of his career, and he has been improving his game every year.

    Alexander Semin is a strong defensive forward who posted a plus-36 rating in addition to 84 points. His 40 goals were ranked seventh, while his plus/minus rating was tied for fifth.

    Jeff Schultz had 23 points, and his plus-50 rating was first in the NHL. Like Backstrom and Semin, he has been improving his point total each year.


    Series Outlook

    As if being swept in their six game series with the Devils wasn't enough, the Penguins also could not solve one of their bitter rivals in 2009-2010.

    In one of the worst games of the season, the Penguins were playing the Capitals after traveling by bus from Newark, New Jersey to Washington D.C. in the worst snowstorm of the winter. Although the Pens took a lead, the Capitals were able to fight back and win 5-4 in overtime. Ovechkin tallied a hat trick in the victory.

    If the Penguins want to beat the Capitals this year, they will need to use their steady defense to shut down Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin. The Capitals have a ton of offense, but lack in the defensive aspect of the game.

    However, if the Penguins stray from their defensive game plan and allow Ovechkin to score hat tricks, they will have more problems ahead. 

    Pittsburgh and Washington do not meet in the 2010-2011 season until December, which gives both teams plenty of time to be ready for each other and turn up the rivalry. The two teams will meet in the 2011 Winter Classic, and the winning team will have further bragging rights in the Crosby vs. Ovechkin debate. 


    2010-2011 Series Schedule

    December 23, 2010: Penguins at Capitals

    January 1, 2011: Capitals at Penguins (Winter Classic)

    February 6, 2011: Penguins at Capitals

    February 21, 2011: Capitals at Penguins

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