Season series -- The Penguins won Round 1 of this rivalry series in a shootout. They beat the Caps in Washington, 3-2, on Dec. 23. Pascal Dupuis scored the shootout winner.
Big story -- It's the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Months of hype have led to what could be the most anticipated regular-season game in NHL history. Yes, you can make that argument based on all the coverage this game gets in our new-media world. The NHL has been embedded in Heinz Field since Dec. 23, when, ironically, the Penguins and Capitals were playing at Verizon Center. They've turned the football stadium into a hockey rink that will be put on display Saturday night for the world to see. Weather is a concern, but the NHL will deal with that as it happens.
Capitals -- They've won four of their last five games since snapping an eight-game winless streak. The lone loss was against the Penguins in a shootout, so the Caps have gained nine of a possible 10 points over the last five games. Their defense and goaltending has been fantastic of late. Washington comes into Pittsburgh on the heels of a 3-0 win against Montreal. Semyon Varlamov stopped 25 shots for his second shutout of the season. The Caps have allowed only seven goals in the last five games.
Now, with all of the pertinent team information out of the way, let's take a look at the rivalry. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was quite adamant during an interview with NHL.com Thursday about how much he dislikes the Penguins.
"They don't like us, so why should we like them?" Boudreau said. "Wasn't it (Maxime) Talbot who said over the summer that he didn't like (Alex) Ovechkin? Well, so why can't we say we don't like Talbot? I didn't like him when he was in (AHL) Wilkes-Barre, and I don't like him in Pittsburgh. Anybody that can beat us we don't like."
Penguins -- Sidney Crosby's point streak came to an end at 25 straight games in a 2-1 shootout loss at the Islanders on Wednesday. Crosby had 26 goals and 24 assists for 50 points over his 25-game streak. The Penguins have won only one of their last three games, but they are 4-2-1 since a 3-2 loss to the Flyers snapped their 12-game winning streak. Evgeni Malkin had 10 points in his first five games back from missing four with a knee injury, but he's pointless in his last three games.
And, now that you know all of that, what about being in the middle of this rivalry between the Caps and Penguins?
"It's good. It's fun," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think part of that history and hatred is built up over the years. Some of that we're a part of, but some of that is built up from times we weren't around for, the Penguins' success against them in the playoffs. We certainly had our fair share in the last playoff round against them, but the personalities, the qualities of the teams and the rivalries of the past are built into some dramatic games and some huge hype from the media. You sense it when you get to the games and it's built into some pretty good hatred."
Who's hot -- Even though he went without a point Wednesday, it's hard to say Crosby is not still the hottest player in the NHL. There isn't much difference between 50 points in 25 games vs. 50 points in 26 games. … Ovechkin has 3 points over the last two games and 6 points over the last six.
Injury report -- The possibility still exists for Penguins center Jordan Staal to make his season debut Saturday. Staal had surgery over the summer on his foot and then suffered a broken hand during his rehab. … Capitals defenseman Tom Poti has been out with a head injury, but he practiced Thursday and could be back for Saturday's game. Matt Bradley remains out with a broken finger.
Stat pack -- Ovechkin and Crosby each have 571 career points, the most of any player in the NHL since 2005-06. Joe Thornton is third with 542. Ovechkin and Crosby have combined to win 13 NHL trophies, including three Harts and three Rocket Richards. … Washington is 7-0-2 in the last nine regular-season meetings against the Penguins and 8-1-3 under Boudreau. … Washington and Pittsburgh have played eight times in the playoffs, with the Penguins winning seven of those series. … Bradley is the only player on the Capitals who has also played for the Penguins. Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke and goalie Brent Johnson played for Washington.
Puck drop -- "It's in the jerseys," ex-Penguin Bill Guerin told NHL.com of the rivalry between the Capitals and Penguins. "You respect the person and you respect the player, but yeah, you go to war against each other and you hate the team."