Sidney Crosby Vs Alexander Ovechkin: Countdown To The Winter Classic
The fourth NHL Winter Classic is just a little over two months away, but the excitement has been building since the summer.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will square off at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, on New Year's Day 2011. This will be the second Winter Classic the Penguins have participated in, while the Capitals are playing in the outdoor game for the first time.
Although neither team has played even 10 games so far this season, it is not too early to see who is making an impact and who needs to step up their game.
In this first installment of Bleacher Report's countdown to the Winter Classic, we will look at who's hot and who's not for both the Penguins and Capitals.
If you think any players not included in this piece should have been included based on their performances, feel free to mention it in the comments section.
About the Pittsburgh Penguins
Record: 5-3-1 (11 points, first in Atlantic Division)
Power Play: 16.3 percent (14th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 82.4 percent (20th)
The Penguins got off to a slow start in the 2010-11 season. They dropped their first three games in the brand new Consol Energy Center with losses to the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, things are starting to look up for Pittsburgh. It currently sits in first place in the division and second in the Eastern Conference. Its key victories include a 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils, who defeated the Penguins six times last season. The Penguins also crushed the rival Flyers by a score of 5-1 a little over a week after the Flyers defeated them in their home opener.
About the Washington Capitals
Record: 5-3-0 (10 points, second in Southeast Division)
Power Play: 12.1 percent (20th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 88.6 percent (Seventh)
The Capitals paid a visit to the Atlanta Thrashers to start the season and were left in a 3-1 hole after two periods. Mike Knuble scored at 8:16 of the third period to pull within a goal, but Atlanta scored at the 15-minute mark to put away Washington by a score of 4-2.
However, since then, the Capitals have been on fire. They had a four-game winning streak from October 9-16, including a 7-2 thumping of New Jersey, which chased Devils starting goaltender Martin Brodeur.
After a pair of losses to the Boston Bruins on October 19 and 21, in which the Capitals scored two goals in two games, Washington bounced back last night against the Thrashers with a 4-3 overtime victory.
The Capitals have traditionally played in a weak division, but they likely will face tighter competition this season. Atlanta is in rebuilding mode, and has already given Washington a run for its money, while the Tampa Bay Lightning are in first place and have just one regulation loss.
Hot: Brent Johnson, Goaltender, Pittsburgh Penguins
Brent Johnson has been known as a career back-up, but so far, he is playing more like a starting netminder.
Johnson has played in five games so far this season, and has not given up more than two goals in any of his starts. He boasts a record of 4-0-1 and is ranked third among all goaltenders in wins.
He is also ranked fifth with a .951 save percentage and fourth with a 1.39 GAA. He most recently started against the St. Louis Blues last night, suffering his first loss of the season on an Erik Johnson overtime goal.
Hot: Alexander Semin, Left Wing, Washington Capitals
Semin had a hat trick in last night's win over the Thrashers for his second multi-point game of the season. His first was a two-point night back on October 9, when the Capitals defeated the Devils in the home opener at Verizon Center.
Semin is also doing well defensively and has a plus-4 rating through the Capitals' first eight games.
Hot: Mark Letestu, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins
Letestu has come a long way in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. He came in undrafted, and many thought he would not last in the NHL due to his small frame.
However, Letestu has silenced his critics. He is currently tied with the Buffalo Sabres' Tyler Ennis for the rookie lead in scoring (seven points), and he was on a three-game point streak from October 15-18. He had two-point games to start and end the streak.
Hot: Alexander Ovechkin, Left Wing, Washington Capitals
Ovechkin has eight points so far this season. He is currently ranked second in the NHL with two game winning goals and had a three point night against the Devils two weeks ago.
Last season, he won the Ted Lindsay Award for the NHL's MVP and was also awarded the Kharlamov Trophy for the NHL's best Russian player.
The Capitals have been a disappointment in their last three playoff runs. Ovechkin is out to change that this year. Can he get it done?
Hot: Sidney Crosby, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins
You can't talk about Alexander Ovechkin without mentioning Sidney Crosby.
The race has already begun to see who will come out with the better 2010-11 season.
Crosby had a rough start to the season and did not score his first goal until the Penguins' October 13 matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That seemed to give Crosby the motivation he needed. He went on to have a three-point night against the Flyers on October 16, and was named the first star of the game.
Crosby is currently the Penguins' leading scorer with 11 points in nine games. His six goals are ranked fifth in the NHL.
Last year, he shared the Rocket Richard Trophy with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. Will he be able to keep up the pace to retain the title, or will his slow start hurt him in the end?
Hot: John Carlson, Defenseman, Washington Capitals
Carlson currently has six points and a plus-3 rating to start the season. He is ranked second among NHL rookies in scoring.
In 2009-10, he played 22 games with the Capitals, during which he scored six points and posted a plus-11 rating. He averages about 22 minutes a game, and has played approximately 25 minutes or more in three of the Caps' first eight games.
Not Hot: Maxime Talbot, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins
Talbot has just one point in the Penguins' first nine games this year.
His production has been dropping every year since the 2007-08 season, when he had 26 points. He also had identical minus-9 ratings in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
Talbot only put up nine points in 45 games last year, due to recovery from shoulder surgery.
However, he must have a strong 2010-11 campaign to convince the Penguins he is worth keeping around.
So far, he is not making his case. He has not had a point in five games. His lone point was an assist in the Penguins' meeting with Toronto nearly two weeks ago.
Not Hot: Semyon Varlamov, Goaltender, Washington Capitals
The Capitals are not going to give up on Varlamov just yet, but his performance so far this season has been less than pleasing.
Varlamov has gotten into just two games this year. He has yet to get his first win of the season and has a .896 save percentage with a 2.91 GAA.
As if that wasn't bad enough, he is currently on the injured reserve with an undisclosed injury. This is the second time in as many seasons that he has dealt with injuries.
With backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth putting on a solid performance (5-2 record with a .919 save percentage and 2.53 GAA), Varlamov will have to come back stronger than ever.
Not Hot: Marc-Andre Fleury, Goaltender, Pittsburgh Penguins
Fleury has only earned one win this season. It came this past Thursday night when the Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators in overtime.
Fleury's disappointing performance out of the gate forced Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to turn to backup goaltender Brent Johnson. Johnson has received an almost equal amount of playing time, but is doing more with his chances.
Fleury currently has a 1-3 record with a .859 save percentage and 3.25 GAA. It's debatable how much of this is his fault, but the numbers are not good for a goaltender of his caliber.
He is the Penguins' franchise goaltender, but it remains to be seen whether he will play like it this season.
Not Hot: Mike Knuble, Right Wing, Washington Capitals
Knuble has two points and a minus-3 rating through the Capitals' first eight games. He is currently on a six-game scoring skid, and his last point came in Washington's home opening win over the Devils.
The veteran forward had 53 points and a plus-23 rating in 2009-10 and has scored at least 50 points in six out of the last seven seasons.
Can Knuble find his game and put up the consistent numbers he is used to, or has time caught up with the 38-year-old winger?