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Wednesday Night Hockey

'Wednesday Night Hockey': 5 Storylines

Next chapter of Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry highlights Penguins-Capitals showdown

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

The next chapter in the NHL's best rivalry of the 21st century will take place at Capital One Arena when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in this week's edition of "Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS).

The Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals will be looking for their sixth straight win. Ovechkin has fueled Washington's early-season success by leading the NHL with 29 goals. The Penguins have been up and down this season and are coming off a 4-2 home loss to the Anaheim Ducks, a game that saw them allow four unanswered goals after taking a two-goal lead.

The longtime rivals have split two games this season, with each team winning at home. The Penguins won 7-6 in overtime on Oct. 4, and Washington won 2-1 on Nov. 7.

Here are 5 storylines to watch:

 

Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry continues

Few rivalries in the NHL's expansion era have had the staying power of Crosby-Ovechkin. Not only have they been among the NHL's best players since entering the League in 2005-06, each has won numerous individual awards and been a big part of their teams' sustained success. The Penguins have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past 12 seasons and won three championships; the Capitals have won five division titles and won the first championship in their history last season. Each has had success against the other's team; Ovechkin has 58 points (35 goals, 23 assists) in 54 games against the Penguins, and Crosby has 66 points (21 goals, 45 assists) in 47 games against the Capitals. Perhaps most notably, neither shows any signs of slowing down.

Video: BUF@WSH: Ovechkin blasts it by Hutton, extends streak

 

Ovechkin nears history

Washington's captain needs one goal to join Mike Gartner as the only players in NHL history to score at least 30 in each of their first 14 season (Gartner holds the record with 15). He was named the NHL's First Star last week after scoring seven goals in three games and putting up back-to-back hat tricks. Ovechkin has scored 10 times during a six-game goal streak (his longest since a seven-game run in 2005-06), has a 14-game point streak and has scored 17 goals in Washington's past 10 games. He appears energized after powering Washington to its first championship and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

 

Seamless transition for Capitals

The Capitals haven't missed a beat despite the fact that they're the first Cup-winning team to return with a new coach since the 2002-03 Detroit Red Wings. Barry Trotz resigned shortly after guiding the Capitals to the first championship since entering the NHL in 1974, but they're perking along under Todd Reirden, who was promoted from associate coach. Reirden's communication skills and his familiarity with the players have helped make the transition to the top job a smooth one, and he's done an excellent job helping the Capitals avoid a Stanley Cup hangover.

 

Penguins on roller coaster

While the Capitals (20-9-3) have ensconced themselves atop the Metropolitan Division again, the Penguins (15-12-6) have been up and down for much of the season. They are 5-2-1 in their past eight games, but the two regulation losses were disappointments: One week ago, they lost 6-3 at the Chicago Blackhawks, who had lost eight in a row, and on Monday they couldn't hold a two-goal lead at home against the Ducks. The Penguins have yet to put together a sustained stretch of consistent hockey, which is why they're in a scramble for a playoff berth.

 

Who's No. 1 in Pittsburgh?

One reason for Pittsburgh's inconsistency has been its goaltending. Matt Murray returned on Saturday after missing four weeks with a lower-body injury and made 38 saves in a 4-3 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings and will start against Washington, but he's 5-5-1 with a 3.95 goals-against average and .883 save percentage -- not the kind of goaltending the Penguins need. Casey DeSmith has played well in Murray's absence (10-6-4, 2.49 GAA, .923 save percentage), but the question for coach Mike Sullivan is who should get the bulk of the playing time. Murray has the credentials (Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017), but DeSmith has been playing better.

Video: BOS@PIT: DeSmith lays out for unbelievable glove save

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