Skip to main content


Caps and Penguins ready for Round 3

by Dan Rosen /
This time, the only cameras that will be capturing the images from latest installment of the NHL's best present-day rivalry are those from NBC. They'll stay busy with plenty of storylines on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals meet for the third time this season -- this time indoors at Verizon Center in downtown D.C.

Here are five that we think you should keep in mind from wherever you might be watching the game, even in Nova Scotia.

1. Missing 87

Please don't believe anyone who tries to convince you that Sidney Crosby's enormous value has diminished in the slightest because the Penguins are winning without him. It's complete and utter nonsense.

But Pittsburgh has figured out how to survive without Crosby, who is spending the weekend with his parents at his home outside of Halifax, N.S., as he continues to recover from a concussion that has forced him to miss the Penguins' last 12 games.

The Pens have won five in a row and eight of their last nine because they're staying true to the principles of their system, winning the special teams battle and playing improved defense to compensate for their diminished offense.

They hold a 7-1 advantage between power-play goals scored and allowed over the past nine games. They are 7-for-29 on the power play and 33-for-34 on the PK.

The Pens are averaging only 2.33 goals per game without Crosby after scoring 3.21 goals per game with him, but their defense has improved and is allowing only 1.92 goals per game without Crosby, down from the 2.29 they were allowing with him.

Let's be certain here and say Pittsburgh positively needs Crosby to win in the spring, but surviving without him for a while could be good for the overall team game.

2. 71, too

Alex Ovechkin had a four-point night Friday in a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay. At the same time Evgeni Malkin was trying to make his return to the lineup after missing five games with a sinus infection.

Instead, Malkin left Friday's game early in the second period -- and on Saturday, the Penguins announced that No. 71 had torn two ligaments in his right knee. That puts the Penguins right back to where they were just two days ago.

They went 4-1-0 without Malkin and Crosby, so winning without them is possible. But  Sunday's game will take on a much different feel if both 87 and 71 are missing from the Penguins' lineup.

That said, it'll also give Ovechkin even more of the national stage to build on what, for his sake and the Caps' sake, is hopefully the start of something big.

Ovechkin scored his first power-play goal since Oct. 30 and only his third of the season in the win at Tampa. It was his 20th goal of the season -- and boy did it seem like a struggle for him to hit that mark. He assisted on three others, including both of Nicklas Backstrom's goals and Jason Chimera's empty-netter.

We've been waiting and waiting for Ovi and the Caps' offense to heat up. We'll find out if it's for real on Sunday.

3. Paging Mr. Semin, Mr. Semin?

Alexander Semin hasn't played in a game since Jan. 8 and he hasn't scored a goal since Nov. 30. In the meantime he's signed a one-year contract extension and the Capitals have fallen behind Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division standings.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was hopeful that Semin would play Friday in Tampa, but he didn't even make the trip after practicing Wednesday and Thursday. Semin is officially listed as day-to-day -- but he's missed 11 games in a row with a groin injury, so take that for what it's worth.

Washington sure would get a boost if Semin was to play Sunday. It would be even better if he scored, but let's not put the cart before the horse here. Maybe all Semin needed was two more days of workouts (Friday and Saturday) to be ready to play against the Penguins, or maybe he still needs time.

We're paging him. Will he answer?

4. Lopsided results in regular season

Washington has owned Pittsburgh in the regular season since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach in November 2007.

The Capitals are 9-1-3 against the Penguins under Boudreau and 8-0-2 in the last 10 games. They swept the season series from the Penguins last season and haven't lost to them in regulation since a 4-2 defeat in Washington on March 9, 2008. Pittsburgh beat the Caps 3-2 in a shootout earlier this season, but Washington won the Winter Classic, 3-1.

The result was obviously different in the 2009 playoffs when Pittsburgh rallied to win the second-round series in seven games, blowing Washington out of its own building in Game 7 by a 6-2 margin.

But, we're still in the regular season here, and the Capitals have for some reason have the Penguins' number.

Will it continue?

5. Bears and Baby Pens come to Washington

If you're a fan of either the Capitals or Penguins you're aware of how valuable their American Hockey League affiliates have become in recent weeks. Both teams are relying heavily on their feeder teams to not just fill out the lineup cards on a game-to-game basis, but contribute in big-time ways.

Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon could all be in the Capitals lineup Sunday. All three started the season with the Hershey Bears, and Gordon has been on a yo-yo between the AHL and NHL for a while.

Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Conner and Eric Tangradi will all be in the Penguins lineup Sunday. They, too, all started the season in the AHL, with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Jeffrey is the one who's been on the yo-yo between the AHL and NHL, but he's been earning his ice time lately with Crosby and Mark Letestu on injured reserve.

Washington and Pittsburgh are premier teams with superstar power, but to survive this season they've had to get some serious help from their supposed minor leaguers. There's no shame in that.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.