The Washington Capitals will host the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. The Capitals have rebounded from losing eight straight by winning their last two games. Washington also owns a four game winning streak against Pittsburgh. The Capitals were 4-0 against the Pens last season.
The Capitals and Penguins will play twice in the next ten days. Besides tonight both teams will be playing in this year’s Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic being played at Heinz Field on New Year’s Day.
Adding another chapter into the rivalry that is Caps-Pens is HBO. HBO cameras are following both teams around, on and off of the ice for their reality series 24/7 Penguins-Capitals. The four part special airs on Wednesday nights and has already aired the first two episodes. Much has been seen and learned in watching both teams this up close and personal.
Despite losing two games in a row last week to the Flyers and Rangers, the Penguins remain one of the NHL's hottest and highest scoring teams. The Penguins have won 14 of their last 16 games and outscored their opponents 54-22 in those 14 victories.
The NHL's leading scorer and arguably the best player in the league, Sidney Crosby brings a 22 game point scoring streak into the big phone booth this evening. Over the last 16 games Crosby has averaged one goal per game and added 14 assists, totaling 30 points. He has hat tricks in two of the 16 games and has scored three or more points four times. Crosby has had two or more points in a game 19 times this season. He leads the league with 28 goals and 58 points.
Defensively the Penguins aren't too shabby either. Led by Marc- Andre Fleury, the Penguins are ranked third in the NHL with just 2.31 goals against per game. Fleury is 12-1 in his last 13 games with an astounding save percentage of .942.
The Penguins success has been as well documented as the Capitals struggles over their last 16 games. The Caps are just 6-10 and have been outscored 46-39 and have been shut out three times. Despite winning two games in a row Washington's super stars have struggled and only Ovechkin has put puts on the board, just two assists.
Alex Ovechkin has just 2 goals in those 16 games, none in his last seven and just 14 points over that same stretch. Nick Backstrom has not scored a goal in ten games, has not recorded a point in the last three and has just 13 points over the Caps last 16 games.
Alexander Semin has missed three games during the 16 game stretch but his numbers aren't any more promising. Over Semin's last 13 he has just eight points with only four goals. Semin has not lit the lamp in his last eight and has not recorded a point in his last four games.
In the win over the New Jersey Devils two nights ago the Capitals third and fourth lines provided most of the scoring. The last time the Caps won a game scoring four or more goals and Ovechkin, Backstrom or Semin didn't score a goal was March 4th last season.
The media and fan built rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin also continues tonight. Crosby and Ovechkin have met 19 times head to head in the regular season with Crosby’s Penguins holding a one game advantage, wining ten times and losing nine. Crosby holds a five point advantage over Ovechkin in those 19 games with 33 points to Ovie’s 28.
The biggest advantage Crosby holds in this rivalry is in the Stanley Cup column. Crosby and his Pens won a cup back in 09. The Pens eliminated the Caps in a seven game series on the way to winning that cup. The Caps, like many past Caps-pens playoff series, led the series 2-0. Pittsburgh would come back, winning game seven in Washington.
The game seven win was the last time the Pens beat the Caps. The last regular season win was back in March of 2009, a 4-3 shootout win in Washington...
Crosby also led Canada to a gold medal in the Olympics last winter scoring the tournamnet winning goal, while Ovechkin and his Russian squad didn’t even make the medal round causing the many to speculate on Ovechkin’s leadership ability.
Washington and Pittsburgh have played 189 regular season games with the Pens holding the edge, 86-83-16-4. This is a rivalry not built in regular season play but one that comes from years of playoff frustration stemming from the penguins seven series wins in eight playoff match-ups against Washington.
The Capitals led six of the seven series in which the Pens won. In five of them the Caps led by two games and twice led three games to one. Penguins fans may claim that this rivalry is one sided and while the results may be, the two teams have played 49 of a possible 56 playoff games or an average of 6 long games per series.
The Pens hold a distinct advantage in the post season winning 30 games and losing just 19 times. I was recently told by a Pens fan that tonight's game is only worth two points and it was no big deal.
Tonight’s game is big for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals are in a fight for the division lead. While still atop the NHL's Southeast division their lead is just one point over Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Beating the Pens would be huge for a team struggling as bad as the Caps have been.
The Penguins could use two points themselves, they trail in their division to the NHL's best team and their cross state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers by just one point. The Penguins with 48 points would be in first place in any other division.
While true it's only worth two points it's important to remember that the division winners are granted the top three seeds in the playoffs. The number four seed has home ice in a first round series but if the higher seed advance beyond the first round the number four seed loses any home ice advantage.
Finishing first and picking up two points is always important in the NHL
I'm a Caps fan and I always look forward to watching these two teams play and the super stars each team puts on the ice. With the 24/7 series the anticipation is even greater. Penguin’s fans claim that playing the Caps is no big deal. While that may be true for them it's not for me or any Caps fan I know.
I want nothing more for Christmas right now than for the Caps to win their third straight and fifth game in a row against the Penguins.
Two points are always nice but when those two points come against Sid, Geno and Flower they are worth just a little bit more to me. Enjoy the game.