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Penguins, Capitals face off for first time

by Corey Masisak

PENGUINS (13-8-0) at CAPITALS (12-8-1)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 6-4-0; Washington 7-2-1

Season series: This is the first meeting between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. It's also the first time they've met as division rivals since a 4-1 Pittsburgh victory on Mar. 28, 1993, in the final days of the Patrick Division. After the Capitals won nine of 11 meetings following the teams' epic playoff series in 2009, the Penguins have won four straight, including all three meetings in 2012-13.

Big story: One of the best rivalries in the League takes center stage as two teams square off for first place in the Metropolitan Division, and the two players who split the League MVP trophies last season, Alex Ovechkin (Hart Trophy) and Sidney Crosby (Ted Lindsay Award), renew their personal duel.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Pittsburgh has been struggling to score goals of late, but there may have finally been a breakthrough Monday night against the Anaheim Ducks. The Penguins didn't record a shot for nearly 17 minutes to start the game, but broke open a scoreless game with goals on back-to-back shots in the third period en route to a 3-1 victory.

They have 29 goals in their past 13 games. Of those 29 goals, they scored 22 in the 11 contests during that stretch that weren't against Western Conference teams in the final games of long road trips (they beat Nashville 4-1 on Friday in the Predators' sixth straight road game). Crosby did have a goal against the Ducks, and Evgeni Malkin helped set up two goals. Both had been scuffling, at least by their standards.

Capitals: Last season began with a thud for Washington. A 2-8-1 start threatened to derail the campaign early, but the Capitals eventually rallied to claim the final Southeast Division title. This season also started poorly, but Washington has been able to recover more quickly.

The Capitals began the season 5-7-0 before rattling off a 7-1-1 run. They jumped into first place in the division with their win against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, but the Penguins snatched the top spot back Monday night with the win against Anaheim. It was the only day the Penguins haven't been in or tied for first in the Metropolitan since the start of the season.

Five of Washington's wins have come via the shootout, and the Capitals are 8-1 in it since Adam Oates became the coach at the start of the 2012-13 season. Pittsburgh has won 10 straight shootouts dating back to Nov. 3, 2011. The Penguins have not lost a shootout or overtime game since a 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Mar. 18, 2012, an 81-game span.

Who's hot: Malkin hasn't scored a goal in 14 games, a career-long drought for him. He does have nine assists in the past eight games, and his individual effort on the first goal against Anaheim was a thing of beauty. … Ovechkin has four goals in the past three games, but even more impressive is his 40 goals in his past 42 regular-season contests.

Injury report: Malkin did not practice Tuesday for the Penguins, but coach Dan Bylsma called it a maintenance day and expects him to play Wednesday. Defenseman Rob Scuderi (ankle), forward Chuck Kobasew (lower body) and goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) are out.

Capitals defenseman Mike Green (groin) completed practice Tuesday but will not play Wednesday. He's on injured reserve but eligible to come off.

"Not ready, not 100 percent ready," Oates said Wednesday. "He could go, but you know what, [the Penguins are a] really good team and [we] don't want to put him in a position where he's behind the eight-ball a little bit."

Washington defensemen John Erskine (knee) and Jack Hillen (leg) are out.

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