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Hunter tries again for first win as Caps host Penguins

by Corey Masisak
PENGUINS (14-7-4) at CAPITALS (12-10-1)


Last 10:
Pittsburgh 5-4-1; Washington 3-6-1

Season Series:
Washington took the first game this season, winning 3-2 in overtime on a goal by Dennis Wideman. The Capitals are 8-0-1 against the Penguins since losing to them in the second round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Big Story:
Sidney Crosby will play the Capitals for the first time since being injured in the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic, and he'll be facing a team with a new coach in ex-Capitals star Dale Hunter.

Team Scope:

Pittsburgh is 3-1-1 since Crosby returned from a concussion, but the Penguins needed a dramatic comeback to beat Montreal and fell short in another attempt in a loss to the New York Rangers on this current road trip.

They yielded three goals in less than five minutes at Madison Square Garden. Discipline was an issue -- the Penguins took six of the seven penalties in the final 40 minutes -- and the faceoff circle was well (New York won 40 of 57 draws).

Capitals: Obviously it has been a week of transition in Washington. Hunter is trying to install a new system and instill a new identity for the Capitals. The first game showed progress, but there is plenty left to fix after a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

"I think it is going to get better and better every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "It is just small things we've been talking about and he's been telling us. I think in the end it is more to simplify and when we get that it is going to be good. He seems like he's very smart and he's telling us good things all the time."

Who's Hot:
Crosby has 11 points in five games since returning for the Penguins. … Mike Knuble has 31 career goals against Pittsburgh -- 11 more than against any other team.

Injury Report: The Penguins could be without two key defensemen in Kris Letang (broken nose) and Zybnek Michalek (undisclosed) against the Capitals. They are also without rearguard Ben Lovejoy (broken wrist). … Washington will be missing its top defenseman, Mike Green, as well because of a groin injury. The Capitals are also without Jay Beagle, who was knocked out by Arron Asham the last time these two teams played. His recovery from a concussion has been slowed by setbacks.

Stat Pack:
Evgeni Malkin has also been on fire since Crosby returned to the Penguins' lineup, recording four multi-point games and 9 total points in the last five games. … Tomas Vokoun's assist on Backstrom's goal Tuesday was the goalie's first point since Dec. 20, 2010, as a member of the Panthers. The last Capitals goalie to record a point had been Braden Holtby on March 15 of this past season against the Canadiens.

Puck Drop: This might only be Dale Hunter's second NHL game behind the bench, but he has some experience coaching against Crosby. His London Knights defeated Crosby's Rimouski Oceanic in the 2005 Memorial Cup.

Hunter's team was loaded -- one of the best Canadian junior teams of all time -- and his Knights beat Crosby's team twice -- a 4-3 overtime win in the round-robin portion of the tournament and 4-0 in the final.

"He was special," Hunter said. "We had to put a checking line against him and pay special attention -- he still scored points and goals; we limited him, anyways. He was so strong on his skates at that age, too. He was 17 and to dominate junior like he did and play against, we had an older team they were 19-year-old kids, and right away you knew you had a special player."

As for devising a way to stop Crosby?

"I don't know, I've got to watch tape on that," Hunter said. "He's a special player, just like Alex is. He's the type of guy that you've got to give special attention to, just like [Ovechkin] gets, too. We've got to be aware of him at all times on the ice."

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