PITTSBURGH -- Two familiar faces will step on the Consol Energy Center ice when Washington Capitals defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
Orpik and Niskanen will play against their former team for the first time since signing with the Capitals during free agency. Orpik was the Penguins’ most-tenured player prior to his departure with 703 games played for Pittsburgh, a team-record for a defenseman. He played each of his first 11 NHL seasons in Pittsburgh since being drafted in the first round of the 2000 NHL Draft.
“I had nothing but good memories here,” Orpik said. “Obviously the last couple years were disappointing, with the way we finished, but that was just the hockey side of things. Away from some of the disappointing endings that we had, I have nothing but good memories here.
“Hopefully, the fans reciprocate those feelings.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said it will be strange to face his teammate of nine seasons, but thinks that will pass once the puck is dropped.
“It’ll be a little weird,” Crosby said. “I played against him a couple times with international stuff, but I think you know the way he plays. You know he’s a physical guy, so I’m expecting to see a lot of him.”
Niskanen was the 2014 Penguins Defensive Player of the Year with a career-high 46 points. He shared Orpik’s sentiments and added that it felt odd “turning left a lot sooner” than he normally would in the hall at Consol Energy Center.
“I really enjoyed it here,” Niskanen said. “I had a lot of fun here and met a lot of nice people. It was a really good time here. There are no regrets, other than not winning in the end.”
Another rash of the mumps and the potential return of defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will alter Pittsburgh’s lines and defensive pairings entering Saturday. Forward Steve Downie and goalie Thomas Greiss were diagnosed with the mumps on Friday, and forward Brandon Sutter tested negative.
Sutter has been cleared to play and will most likely resume his role as the Penguins second-line center between left wing Evgeni Malkin and right wing Patric Hornqvist. Downie will not play on Saturday and will be replaced by forward Jayson Megna, who was recalled from the AHL.
In his last NHL game, Megna committed four minor penalties in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Dec. 12. He was reassigned to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the following day.
Goalie Jeff Zatkoff was also recalled on Saturday and will serve as the Penguins’ backup.
As Downie exits the lineup, Bortuzzo (upper body) could return. Bortuzzo skated alongside Scott Harrington Saturday morning and said he felt ready to return to the ice.
“I feel good,” Bortuzzo said. “Everything’s good to go. I feel confident out there. Obviously, it was just a morning skate, but to get that under my belt, it felt good.”
Defenseman Paul Martin, who has missed three games with an undisclosed injury, also participated in the Saturday skate, but will not return against the Capitals, Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Troy Brouwer
Brooks Laich – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Jay Beagle – Andre Burakovsky – Michael Latta
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt – Mike Green
Scratched: Jason Chimera
Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (upper body), Aaron Volpatti (neck)
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Evgeni Malkin – Brandon Sutter – Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling – Marcel Goc – Jayson Megna
Bobby Farnham – Andrew Ebbett – Rob Klinkhammer
Rob Scuderi – Kris Letang
Derrick Pouliot – Simon Despres
Scott Harrington – Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Brian Dumoulin
Injured: Steve Downie (mumps), Thomas Greiss (mumps), Blake Comeau (upper body), Christian Ehrhoff (lower body), Paul Martin (undisclosed), Craig Adams (undisclosed), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Beau Bennett (lower body), Olli Maatta (upper body), Scott Wilson (leg), Zach Sill (upper body)
Status report: Bennett, who has missed 14 games with a lower-body injury and the mumps, participated in Pittsburgh’s Saturday morning skate. It is unlikely he will return against the Capitals. … Wilson will return to the Capitals’ lineup after being scratched against the New York Rangers on Tuesday, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.
Who’s Hot: Hornqvist has scored a goal in each of his past two games. He is second on the Penguins with 13 goals, three behind Malkin. … Backstrom has averaged a goal over his past six games. He leads Washington with 36 points.