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Early excitement as Penguins, Capitals renew rivalry

by Brian Hunter
CAPITALS (2-0-0) at PENGUINS (3-0-1)


Season Series:
First of four meetings. The Penguins started off last season's series with a victory, but the Capitals took three straight after that -- a 3-1 win in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field on New Year's Day, then a pair of shutouts by Michal Neuvirth in a 16-day span during February. Mike Knuble's 3 goals led all scorers.

Big Story:
We're only one week into the 2011-12 season, but Pittsburgh and Washington have already set the stage for the continuation of their rivalry by coming in leading their respective divisions without a regulation defeat between them. The Penguins collected five of six points on a season-opening trip through western Canada, then won their home opener over the Panthers. The Capitals scored 10 goals in taking barnburners against two of their Southeast rivals, the Hurricanes and Lightning.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Last season Washington cut down on its goals against, but that seemed to come at the expense of its formerly explosive offense. Through two games this season, the opposite appears to be the case. The Capitals could certainly stand to tighten up defensively after allowing eight goals to the Canes and Bolts, but nobody's complaining they aren't putting the puck in the net. Jason Chimera scored a pair of third-period goals Monday against Tampa Bay and Matt Hendricks netted the shootout winner in a 6-5 triumph at Verizon Center.

"I guess there was a little sense of revenge, but there's 80 games left in the season, though," Hendricks said of beating the team that swept Washington out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. "To win these divisional games are big for us. We look forward to the next one."

Penguins: Despite getting just one day off after returning from its three-games-in-four-nights road trip and having to play the home opener without Evgeni Malkin, who suffered a lower-body injury in Calgary, there was no stopping Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Four different players had goals and nine scored at least one point as the Penguins doubled up the Panthers, 4-2. So far they've picked right up where they left off last season, getting contributions from around the lineup to compensate for the absence of key pieces.

"We're obviously on the same page. Diving out there, guys are blocking shots," said Matt Cooke, one of Tuesday's goal scorers. "(Marc-Andre Fleury) and (Brent Johnson) are both standing on their heads and that makes it fun. We're all working together as a unit trying to kill penalties."

Who's Hot: Chimera, whose career high for goals in a season is 17, already has 3 goals in the Capitals' two games. His first goal against the Lightning was the 100th of his career. … Penguins defenseman Kris Letang picked up an assist against the Panthers and has points in all four games this season (1-5-6) to lead the team in scoring. Pascal Dupuis had a goal and an assist, and his 4 points tie Jordan Staal for second.

Injury Report:
Washington defensemen Tom Poti (groin) and John Erskine (shoulder) are on injured reserve. … Malkin (lower body) and defenseman Brooks Orpik (hernia surgery) are day-to-day for Pittsburgh, while forward Sidney Crosby remains on injured reserve but could find himself closer to returning after seeing his doctors at some point this week.

Stat Pack:
Over two games, the Capitals have dressed 19 skaters and 15 of them have recorded at least one point. … The Penguins have faced 16 shorthanded situations over their four games, and have killed them all. They led the NHL in penalty-killing last season.

Puck Drop: The two teams have planned a joint effort to raise money for the families of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the KHL team whose plane crashed Sept. 7 in Russia. Pittsburgh and Washington players will wear jerseys with commemorative Lokomotiv patches at the game, then autograph the game-worn and game-issued jerseys afterward and auction them off at All proceeds will benefit the Lokomotiv players' children and families.

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