High Noon - For the second time in three weeks, the Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins meet up in an afternoon affair here in Washington. The Pens took a 4-3 decision from the Caps in the first meeting on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 2), and the Caps will be looking to even up the season's series this afternoon at Capital One Arena.
At stake is first place in the suddenly tightened Metropolitan Division standings. As the sun rose this morning, the Caps found themselves sharing the top spot with Pittsburgh in terms of points; both teams have 80. But Pittsburgh has played one fewer game, and a number of teams are not so quietly creeping closer in the rear-view mirror.
Only six points separate the top six teams in the Metro, and the seventh-place New York Rangers are only 10 points south of the top spot now. Less than a month ago - on Jan. 28 - the Blueshirts were 23 points behind Washington.
With a quarter of the season remaining, we may be in for another wild ride of a finish in the Metro, which is not something we could have foreseen even a few weeks ago.
Both the Caps and the Penguins should come into today's game with a burr under their respective saddles. Washington has lost four straight games (0-3-1) for the first time this season, and the Penguins have lost two straight in regulation. Pittsburgh is looking to avoid its first three-game regulation losing streak in four months, since mid-October.
Couldn't Get Ahead - Over their first 37 games of the season, the Capitals owned the lead for 976 minutes and 3 seconds, second only to the Colorado Avalanche (1007:14) for most lead time in the NHL up to that point of the campaign.
Since then, the Caps have rarely led. In their last 24 games, they've won only 11, and needed to mount a comeback in seven of those games. Only four times in their last 24 games have the Capitals scored the game's first goal and maintained that lead for the rest of the game. They did so twice against Carolina, and against New Jersey and Ottawa.
Over the aforementioned 24-game span, the Capitals have led on the scoreboard for only 303 minutes and 29 seconds, which ranks 30th in the league over that span, ahead of only the lowly Detroit Red Wings (288:40).
Afternoon Blight - Including Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Devils in New Jersey, the Capitals have now played nine afternoon games this season, and they are 3-5-1 in those games. Washington has been behind by two or more goals at some point in eight of the nine games - including Saturday in New Jersey - and it came back from multiple-goal deficits in each of its three afternoon victories this season.
Washington has been outscored 27-13 in the first 40 minutes of its afternoon games this season, and it has outscored the opposition by an aggregate 17-5 in the third period and overtime of those games.
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net today against the Penguins. Although he has played well in his last four starts, he has not been supported well either offensively or defensively, and he has just one win (1-2-1) to show for it. He has a .919 save pct. and a 2.53 GAA in his last five appearances, including one relief appearance.
Lifetime against the Penguins, Holtby is 9-11-3 with a couple of shutouts, a 3.01 GAA and a .909 save pct. in 24 appearances.
For Pittsburgh, Matt Murray will make the start on Sunday. He is 6-2-1 in nine starts since the turn of the calendar, including a victory over the Capitals here on Feb. 2. Lifetime against the Capitals, Murray is 8-4-0 with a 3.62 GAA and an .891 save pct. in a dozen appearances.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Penguins to look on Sunday afternoon in the District when they meet for the second time this season:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
16-Zucker, 87-Crosby, 12-Simon
57-Angello, 71-Malkin, 17-Rust
19-McCann, 26-Agozzino, 72-Hornqvist
13-Tanev, 53-Blueger, 37-Lafferty
6-Marino (fractured cheekbone)
24-Kahun (game time decision)
27-Bjugstad (core muscle)
46-Aston-Reese (lower body)