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Crosby and Ovechkin renew their rivalry

by Dan Rosen

CAPITALS (31-12-6) at PENGUINS (31-19-1)

Last 10 -- Washington 7-3-0; Pittsburgh 5-5-0

Season series -- This is the first of four meetings between these two rivals. The last time they met was last spring, in what turned into a classic Eastern Conference semifinal-round series, won by Pittsburgh in seven games. The last time they met at Mellon Arena, the Caps kept their playoffs alive with a stirring 5-4 win thanks to David Steckel's overtime goal. Washington won three of the four regular-season meetings last season; Pittsburgh's only win came via the shootout on March 8.

Big story -- There are too many big stories to count in this one, but obviously front and center will be the battle of the captains: Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. They are the two biggest stars in the game today, and nobody can forget their dueling hat tricks in Game 2 of last spring's playoff series. There is no love lost between these superstars either, so it usually makes for great theater. Let's not forget the rivalry between Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin. That should be about enough to whet your palate, don't you think?

Team Scope:

Capitals -- On Tuesday night, the Caps won a game that good teams find a way to win. Detroit outshot Washington by a 2-to-1 margin (46-23) and twice held a one-goal lead, including in the final 10 minutes of the third period. The Caps really had no business winning, but somehow they struck twice within 46 seconds late in the game to steal a 3-2 win behind the stellar play of goalie Jose Theodore (44 saves). Ovechkin didn't record a shot on goal for the first time in 2 1/2 seasons, but fourth-line grinders Matt Bradley and David Steckel each sandwiched goals around Nicklas Backstrom's pretty power-play tally to lead the Caps' offense. Washington has won four straight games and seven of its last eight, but the Caps have been outshot in each of the last two games. Theodore, though, has reclaimed the No. 1 job by winning four straight games, including three straight starts. He has a 1.67 goals-against average and .951 save percentage in that time.

"We have to play for him," Ovechkin said of Theodore. "(Tuesday) night we looked like we were kids on the ice. It's a good sign for us (that we won), but we didn't play our game. We didn't move our legs and we made lots of bad plays, but we won the game."

Penguins -- The Sid and Geno Show returned Tuesday night in a 6-4 win over the Islanders. Crosby figured in on all of the Penguins' goals with 2 goals and 4 assists while Evgeni Malkin (Geno in the locker room) recorded a hat trick, officially breaking out of his prolonged slump. He snapped an 11-game goal drought Saturday in Vancouver. Malkin may be heating up just in time, as the Penguins have snuck within two points of the New Jersey Devils for first in the Atlantic Division. They have won three of their last four and four of their last six games. The Penguins scored four power-play goals against the Islanders, a positive sign for a power play that was still lagging in 26th place in the League entering Wednesday's action. They had four power-play goals in their previous 11 games. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (fractured finger) is being fitted for a new glove, but it's possible that he will sit out his second straight game, meaning ex-Cap Brent Johnson would start his second straight game. Johnson, who played for Washington the previous four seasons, is 4-0 with a 1.15 GAA lifetime against his old team.

"We are waiting for a new glove for Flower. He should be getting it (Thursday) morning," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He'll be going on the ice with the new glove prior to practice. He could possibly practice with us. ... We are waiting for a new glove that would fit what he needs to wear on his finger and make it more comfortable. We'll see how that goes. Hopefully we can progress to practice and we'll go from there."

Who's hot -- Theodore is streaking for the Capitals. With an assist on Backstrom's goal Tuesday, Ovechkin now has points in seven straight games (4-11-15). Mike Green has a point in nine straight (3-9-12). … Crosby snapped a two-game pointless streak with his six-point effort Tuesday and has 14 points in his last seven games. He now has 63 points, fourth in the League behind Henrik Sedin, Ovechkin and Joe Thornton. Malkin has four goals in the last two games.

Injury report -- For the Capitals, defensemen John Erskine (upper body) and Brian Pothier (undisclosed) remain day-to-day while goalie Semyon Varlamov (groin) remains out. Green also skipped practice Wednesday for what Boudreau said was a maintenance day. ... For the Penguins, Fleury (broken finger), Pascal Dupuis (eye), Maxime Talbot (lower body) and Sergei Gonchar (undisclosed) all didn't practice Wednesday and are listed as day-to-day. Bylsma is hopeful that Gonchar will play. Johnson returned Tuesday after missing five games with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Brooks Orpik also returned Tuesday after missing five games with an undisclosed injury. Chris Kunitz remains on IR after abdominal surgery.

Stat pack -- In 16 career games against the Penguins, Ovechkin has 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points. In 15 career games against the Capitals, Crosby has 8 goals and 18 assists for 26 points. Ovechkin had 8 goals and 6 assists for 14 points in the seven-game playoff series against Pittsburgh last season while Crosby had 8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points. … Backstrom has 13 assists in eight career games against the Penguins, including nine assists in four road games. … The Caps outscored Pittsburgh 9-1 in the third period last season.

Puck drop -- "I'm sure both of those guys (Ovechkin and Crosby) go out and say, 'I'm going to be the best player I can be every night.' Sometimes when you say those things, things go your way," Boudreau said. "Let's not forget Pittsburgh's power play had seven attempts and they were 4-for-7, which is scary when you're playing them next because it was fairly dormant for the previous X amount of games."

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