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At the Rink: Capitals at Penguins

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins hope their newfound health can reverse their fortunes when they face the Washington Capitals for a third time.

The Penguins have yet to score a goal against the Capitals in two games this season, which they've lost by a combined score of 7-0. Washington defeated Pittsburgh 4-0 at Verizon Center on Jan. 28, with forward Alex Ovechkin scoring twice, a month after forward Eric Fehr's two goals led Washington to a 3-0 win in Pittsburgh on Dec. 27.

The Penguins will look to avoid a third shutout at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday.

"I think they played that 1-1-3 [defense in the first two games] and we've had a couple teams play that against us," defenseman Paul Martin said. "For us, just managing the puck through the neutral zone and making sure we get it in deep and spend some time in their end."

Their previous game capped a Pittsburgh slump that saw it go 5-8-3 from Dec. 23-Jan. 28. During that stretch, the Penguins' injuries included key players such as forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau, and defenseman Kris Letang.

Those players, who are responsible for 48 percent of Pittsburgh's goals, have returned in recent weeks. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who has missed eight games while following concussion protocol, remains the lone injured Penguin who has a realistic chance of returning; forward Pascal Dupuis and defenseman Olli Maatta are each out for the remainder of the season.

"It's a process, it doesn't happen with one game," Crosby said. "But I think ever since the Nashville game [on Feb. 2], I feel like, for the most part, we've done a pretty good job. So I think we're getting everybody involved and playing good defensively and generating some good offensive chances."

With the bolstered lineup, Pittsburgh's play has improved, leading to a 5-2-1 record since it last played Washington. The competition within the Metropolitan Division has made that level of consistency necessary.

The first-place New York Islanders and the fourth-place Capitals are separated by five points in the top half of the division. The New York Rangers and Penguins are sandwiched between the Islanders and Capitals with 73 points each.

Washington could pull to within one point of second place with a third win against Pittsburgh.

"I think we played better than them the last two games," Ovechkin said. "That's it … I think [goalie Braden Holtby] played outstanding games those last two games and he's a big part of our success."

Defenseman Matt Niskanen, who played parts of four seasons with the Penguins, said he expects an improved effort from his former team with its lineup at nearly full-strength.

"The first game, they had a lot of injuries. And they lost a couple guys along the way in the second game, I believe," Niskanen said. "It looks like they're going more a full lineup tonight, so we'll have a tougher challenge … [Shutting out the Penguins for a third time] would be a unique hat trick, I guess.

"That'd be quite a feat, for sure."

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromAndre Burakovsky

Marcus JohanssonEvgeny KuznetsovTroy Brouwer

Brooks LaichEric FehrJoel Ward

Jay BeagleMichael LattaTom Wilson

Brooks OrpikJohn Carlson

Karl AlznerMatt Niskanen

Jack HillenMike Green

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

Scratched: Jason Chimera, Steve Oleksy

Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (upper body)


Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyDavid Perron

Blake ComeauEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Nick SpalingBrandon SutterBeau Bennett

Craig AdamsMaxim LapierreSteve Downie

Paul MartinKris Letang

Rob ScuderiSimon Despres

Derrick PouliotRobert Bortuzzo

Marc-Andre Fleury

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Zach Sill

Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion protocol), Olli Maatta (upper body)

Status report: Johnston said Ehrhoff must participate in a full practice and take contact before returning. He could fully participate as early as Wednesday. … After being scratched in three of Washington's previous four games, Burakovsky scored twice against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday while playing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom, where he will remain against Pittsburgh.

Who's hot: Letang has scored at least one point in four of his past five games, including one goal and one assist against the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 12. He is tied for second among NHL defensemen with 44 points. … Ovechkin has scored at least one point in seven of his past eight games. He had two goals and two assists against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday and leads the League with 36 goals.

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