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Capitals vs. Penguins comes down to goalies

by Kevin Weekes

This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry features a great Metropolitan Division matchup with the Washington Capitals visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m. EST, NBCSN, RDS, TSN2).

Philipp Grubauer
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 6-2-5
GAA: 2.06 | SVP: 0.936
These teams feature some of the world's best skaters, but goaltending will be the key for both. Washington's Philipp Grubauer has come in and played exceptionally well. He's forced coach Adam Oates' hand to keep playing him. Both Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby earned their right to be in the NHL, no question about it. They were both excellent down in Hershey of the American Hockey League when they were there, and Holtby has had huge playoff runs for a young goalie.

But all three Capitals goaltenders are young, and part of being a young goalie is finding that consistency in the League. I know firsthand it's difficult to achieve. Grubauer has come in and outplayed Neuvirth and Holtby, and for now he is the guy.

The Capitals need great goaltending, as does any team. Because Washington really excels on the power play and is so skilled, their 5-on-5 play is even more critical, and their goalie needs to make the saves that allow them to play to their skill set.

When you flip the page and look at Marc-Andre Fleury, he's been great this year. You expect guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and all these talented guys to make plays. Their ability to do that is carried in large part by what kind of goaltending they get. And Fleury has been awesome.

I know there are lots of people who question Fluery, and he would be the first person to say he wasn't his best in the playoffs the last two years. He put in a lot of time in the offseason to fine-tune his mental approach to the game. Keep in mind, this is a guy who won a Stanley Cup. Through all the injuries the Penguins have sustained, who is the one constant? It's Marc-Andre Fleury.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
RECORD: 26-10-1
GAA: 2.24 | SVP: 0.918
Many of the world's best forwards will be competing in this game. But up front we've got to start with Sid. Sidney Crosby, for my money, has been the League MVP so far. There are other guys who are very deserving, but Sid just looks like Sid. He's playing like himself, he's reading the game, and he's an all-situations player. I love the improvement that he's shown in the last two years in the faceoff circle. He plays a complete game, and is the catalyst for that team. Malkin has helped since he returned from injury. So I'm looking forward to this matchup of skill vs skill.

The Capitals have plenty of their own star players, with Alex Ovechkin playing excellent and scoring goals at a crazy pace. Nicklas Backstrom has also played very well. But the line for the Capitals that people don't give a lot of credit to is the one with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera on the wings.

Adam Oates told me recently that you could say those two have been Washington's most consistent players, in terms of effort and board play. They've had different guys join them at center, but the constant has been Ward's board play and Chimera's speed. It's been a really good line.

It all comes together Wednesday in a game featuring many of the League's biggest stars. Just don't be surprised if it's one of the complimentary role guys who ends up making a big play to win it.

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