Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins Headed in Opposite Directions

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIDecember 12, 2010

Pens and Caps headed in opposite directions before Winter Classic clash
Pens and Caps headed in opposite directions before Winter Classic clash

Both the Penguins and Capitals are two of the best teams in the NHL.

Both are currently on streaks—very different streaks.

The Penguins won their 12th game in a row last night, while the Caps dropped their fifth straight and are 4-8 over the same period.

Washington has lost four in a row on home ice and has been shut out three times during this skid.

The Penguins are on the opposite side of this spectrum. In winning their 12th straight, a 5-2 victory in Buffalo, they matched a franchise record of winning their seventh straight road contest.

The Penguins own the best record in the NHL at 21-8-2, good for 44 points.

The Penguins are winning by dominating every facet of the game: They have outscored opponents 43-19 during this stretch and have only allowed more than two goals in a game once; they allowed four in a 5-4 shootout win against Carolina back on November 19; Marc-Andre Fleury has started every game during the streak except one; Brent Johnson, giving Fleury a rest beat the Calgary Flames on November 27.

Fleury, who struggled earlier this season, is 13-0-1 in his last 14 games and recorded his second victory in Buffalo during the streak last night.

The Penguins are also playing physical when necessary. Teams are trying to get physical with the Penguins in an effort to slow them down, but Pittsburgh has held their own. In their last three contests, there have been a combined 150 minutes in penalties and six fighting majors called.

The Penguins are a confident bunch and following last night’s victory, head coach Dan Bylsma said:

“We were talking before the game that none of us had an opportunity to win 12 in a row. It feels good to get it. We're going to put this one behind us and move on to the next one as quickly as we can."

Down in Washington, nothing feels good right now. Although the Capitals played a better game last night, they didn't get the win against the Colorado Avalanche. For the sixth time in their 12-game stretch, they failed to score more than two goals.

The Capitals have lost all four games on this home stand and, for the first time under head coach Bruce Boudreau, have lost five in a row. 

The Capitals high powered offense has disappeared. They have been outscored 36-28 over their last 12 games and have one power play goal in 10 chances. They are making critical mistakes at key moments.

Last night on Colorado’s second goal, a defensive breakdown allowed the Avalanche to take the lead. The power play, which allowed Colorado their third goal and the game winner, had Caps fans scratching their heads.

Alexander Semin, in his own offensive zone and after the whistle, cross checked the Avalanches John-Michael Liles in the back of the head.

Semin was given a five minute major and ejected from the game. Colorado would cash in as Washington would break down on the penalty kill. Colorado’s Paul Stastny was left alone on the left post and scored the game winner, making it 3-1.

Washington would skate for the full 60 minutes and outshot Colorado 44-29 but coach Boudreau put it best when he said:

"That looked more like our team tonight. When things aren't going well that’s what happens. It is on the upswing, it is not on the downswing."

What do midseason streaks like this mean? If last year is any indication, not much.

The Capitals won 14 in a row at one point and were ousted in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Montreal Canadians. The Capitals finished 31 points ahead of the Habs in the regular season. During that 14 game winning streak, the Capitals were 2-0 against Pittsburgh and went 4-0 against the Pens last season.

The Capitals and Penguins are headed for a New Year's Day showdown in this year’s Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

They will meet prior to that game in Washington on the 23rd. Nothing has defined the difference in the two teams' recent streaks as how their all world star players and the two best hockey players on the planet have played during their respective teams stretches.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have gone as their teams have gone during the past 12 games: Crosby is playing lights out and Ovechkin wishes he could light a lamp.

Crosby had a 19-game point scoring streak back in 2007 and after an assist last night in Buffalo is just one shy of his career mark at 18. During this 12-game winning streak Crosby has recorded 36 points, 20 goals and 16 assists.

Crosby is putting distance between himself and Tampa Bay’s Steve Stamkos in the scoring title race. Crosby leads the league with 51 points and 26 goals.

Ovechkin trails Crosby by 15 points and isn't even in the conversation for the goal scoring title, at the moment. During the Capitals slide, The Great 8 has scored just two goals and recorded nine assists.

Ovechkin and the Capitals are very fortunate because most teams wouldn't still be sitting in the top of their conference with a stretch like they have had. They are still third overall in the conference but Montreal is just one point behind them and Atlanta has closed the division gap to just five points

They travel to play the Rangers tonight and getting out on the road may not be a bad thing right now, having lost their last four at home.

Crosby will have to wait until Tuesday night to see if he can match his career best 19 consecutive game points streak. It won’t be easy, as the Pens travel to Philadelphia to play the Flyers. Philly trails Pittsburgh by just one point in the division and conference.

HBO has decided to become involved in this rivalry. They will follow the Penguins and Capitals ala Hard Knocks style for their acclaimed series, 24/7 Penguins-Capitals. This show premieres Wednesday night at 10 pm and is an exclusive unedited look into both teams.

Like this rivalry needed anymore hype, but as a Caps fan, I'll take it.

The last time Washington lost five in a row, Glenn Hanlon was replaced by Bruce Boudreau back in 2007. If you read my last article about the Caps, you know I'm in favor of possibly finding veteran leadership behind the bench for the rest of the season.

This is a crucial stretch for Washington—with HBO in town, the arch rival Penguins on the horizon and a five game losing streak, Boudreau better right the ship fast because if Ovechkin doesn't get going, Boudreau may be.