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Kuznetsov to make Capitals debut vs. Penguins

by Jon Lane

PENGUINS (42-17-4) at CAPITALS (30-25-10)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 5-3-2; Washington 6-3-1

Season series: This is the third of four games between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The Penguins won the first two, the latest a 4-3 victory on Jan. 15 at Consol Energy Center.

Big story: Pittsburgh is fighting to hold off the Boston Bruins to retain first place in the Eastern Conference and is five points behind the Anaheim Ducks in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.

For the Penguins, the stretch run is about seeding and playoff positioning. The Capitals, however, are in a fight just to make the playoffs and received a boost Saturday after rallying to defeat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 that snapped a three-game losing streak. Washington scored three goals within 5:02 to stay in 10th place in the East and within one point of the final wild-card spot.

''We know that we're at a point where our season is on the line every single game,'' Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Pittsburgh returned to work Sunday following a day off in Southern California, where it earned a 3-2 win against the Ducks on Friday in a game between the two conference leaders. Suffice to say, the Penguins needed a break. They have back-to-back games against the Capitals Monday and Tuesday, with another back-to-back set against the Philadelphia Flyers next weekend.

"This is a big week ahead of us," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We need to keep getting better."

Capitals: One of the top prospects in the world for the past few years, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov agreed to an entry-level contract Saturday with the Capitals, and took part in a 45-minute skate Sunday morning with coach Adam Oates and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. Kuznetsov will play against the Penguins, starting on the fourth line.

"Any hockey player wants to play in the NHL, wants to win the Cup. It's my dream, [to] play in NHL," Kuznetsov said. "I'm ready, 100 percent. I want to play. If you good hockey player it doesn't matter where you play -- big ice, small ice. I'm ready to play hard hockey. I’m not scared."

Who's hot: Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has four points in his past three games. Center Sidney Crosby is 1-5-6 in his past five. Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta is 3-1-4 in his past five and had his first multiple-goal game this past Thursday against the San Jose Sharks … Capitals wing Alex Ovechkin, the NHL's leading scorer with 44 goals, is 3-1-4 in his past five. Center Nicklas Backstrom has four assists in his past five games and points in six of eight. Brouwer has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in his past eight.

Injury report: Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (upper body) and right wing Brian Gibbons (lower body) are day-to-day. Forwards Beau Bennett (wrist surgery), Chris Conner (hand surgery) and Pascal Dupuis (right knee surgery), defensemen Kris Letang (illness/stroke), Paul Martin (broken hand), and goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot, hip) are on injured reserve … Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski (ankle) hopes to start skating this week. Defenseman John Erskine (upper body) missed the game Saturday. Left wing Aaron Volpatti (upper body) is on injured reserve.


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