Washington Capitals v. Pittsburgh Penguins: What's This, Battle Of The Defenses?

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIFebruary 5, 2011

Friends last Saturday but not on Sunday
Friends last Saturday but not on SundayHarry How/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals, fresh off beating the Southeast division leading Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Friday night, return home to play the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow.

This is the second straight "Super Sunday" showdown between the Pens and Caps and without two key players, last year’s game will be hard to top. Sidney Crosby, out with a concussion and Evgeni Makin, out for the year with a knee injury.

On February 7th last year, the Caps and Pens was the appetizer to the Saints and Colts for hockey and football fans alike. The Capitals were riding a 13-game winning streak and dominating opponents in the process headed into the Super Bowl Sunday showdown.

The Penguins came into Washington hell bent on stopping the winning streak cold and it looked as though they would do just that. Sidney Crosby scored two first period goals just three minutes apart to give the Pens the early 2-0 lead.

Alex Ovechkin would cut the lead to 2-1, but Pittsburgh scored the next two goals and the streak looked dead. Eric Fehr scored just before the second intermission to cut the lead in half, but the Penguins were nearly unbeatable with a two-goal lead after two periods.

It was the first time the Caps trailed by two-goals after two periods during the winning streak as Ovechkin and company remained confident headed into the third period.

The Caps knew that they, not the Penguins were the highest scoring team in the league last season. The stage was set for another classic Pens-Caps finish and this one would not disappoint.

The Pens with Crosby and Malkin already on fire in the game, with two points each, were not going down easy and came out peppering Caps goalie Jose Theodore to start the thid period.

Alex Ovechkin finally stepped up and notched his ninth career hat trick with two third period goals sending the game into overtime.

That is where Mike Knubble would end it, as Alex Ovechkin would earn his fourth point of the day in assisting the game winner, just 2:49 into the extra session.

The streak would reach 13 with the win and eventually 14, but a loss four days later in Ottawa would end the streak.

The Capitals and Pens always live up to the hype, but without Crosby and Malkin, there is no hype. Crosby missed game number 12 Friday night, but much like Washington this season, the Penguins are using defense to win and make no mistake Caps fans, the Pens are still winning.

Pittsburgh has won five straight and are winners in eight of their last nine games.

Despite continuing to win, the offense has suffered without Sid the Kid in the line-up. Pittsburgh has averaged 3.13 non-shootout goals in its first 41 games with him in the lineup. Without him, they are scoring just 2.27 per game.

Pittsburgh has compensated with solid defense and goaltending and the Penguins have gone from allowing just 2.29 goals a game before Crosby went down to a steel curtain like defense without him, giving up just 1.91 goals a game.

The Caps are 1-0-1 against Pittsburgh this season and 8-0-2 in their last ten regular season meetings against the Pens. The two teams last met in the Winter Classic on New Year's night. The game won by Washington was not without controversy.

That was the game that many believed Crosby first sustained his concussion on a hit from the capitals Dave Steckel. Many fans and Crosby included felt the hit was not on the level. The Caps and Pens also failed to carry on the tradition of shaking hands following the game.

No matter how you slice the pie, Caps and Pens will always be an intriguing match-up. The game is always hard hitting and physical, but with the Caps playing a new trap style of defense and the Pens forced to play better defense without the teams two top scorers, this one could be offensive-less to say the least.

Pittsburgh is the second best defensive team in the league, while the Caps are eighth. The Pens are number one on the penalty kill while the Caps are number two. It's like the movie Freaky Friday with these two teams right now.

Who would have thought that we would be talking defense when talking about a February game between these two teams.

The Caps led the league with 313 goals last season, but are on pace to score 80 less this season. Both teams boast great goaltending. Expected caps starter Semyon Varlamov has been stellar in last 12 games with a 1.77 GAA and a .942 save pct.

All-Star Marc-Andre Fleury has been outstanding this season. Fleury is 25-11 with a 2.20 goal against and a .942 save percentage.

I hate the fact that Crosby and Malkin will be out. I will take the "W" if the Caps can get it but a Caps vs. Pens game is always better when Crosby and Ovechkin can be heard in the same breath.

The Caps should still be leery, as I am, because the Pens are 8-3-1 without Crosby playing this year and 4-1 without Crosby and Malkin in the line-up.

The Capitals are hoping to build off their five-goal performance from Friday night's win. Their highest goal output since December 21st. On a day when Pittsburgh and defense will be synonymous throughout the day and night, Washington just needs to win anyway they can.

Let’s go Caps & Pack.