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Penguins, Capitals renew rivalry in Washington

by Corey Masisak
PENGUINS (34-15-4) AT CAPITALS (28-15-10)

TV -- NBC (HD), TSN2 (HD)

Last 10 --
Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Washington 4-3-3

Season series -- Third of four meetings this season. Pittsburgh won in a shootout Dec. 23 in Washington, and the Capitals prevailed 3-1 at Heinz Field in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Big story -- The best current rivalry in the NHL is renewed for the first time since the Winter Classic, but stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin will all be missing because of injuries.

Team scope:

Penguins -- The good news is Pittsburgh has won five games in a row and remains within a point of the top spot in the Eastern Conference despite missing its top two players. The bad news is Malkin now has torn knee ligaments after coming back from a previous injury for less than two periods. General manager Ray Shero has three weeks to put the more than $8 million in cap space he'll have to use if Malkin is out for the season, but replacing one of the top players in the League will not be easy.

Capitals -- After back-to-back shutouts by Dwayne Roloson against Washington, the Capitals finally solved him Friday night in a 5-2 victory. The Capitals scored five goals for the first time in a month and have registered power-play goals in back-to-back games for the first time in two months.

"You could see every one of them were committed to doing the right thing and they did, we got a couple lucky breaks and won the game," coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters after the game.

The Capitals trail Tampa Bay by three points in the Southeast Division, and have seven of their next 10 games against teams currently in a playoff position while the Lightning spend the rest of the month finishing a 12-game homestand. Collecting two points in games at Verizon Center will be critical for the Capitals. They lost 11 times at home last season (30-5-6) but have already dropped 12 at Verizon in 2010-11 (16-5-7).

Who's hot -- Maybe the most important development from Washington's win was the four-point nights from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The two goals from Backstrom were one more than he had against a team currently in the top eight of the Eastern Conference all season. … Pittsburgh's Dustin Jeffrey is one of the guys in the lineup because of the injuries to Crosby and Malkin, and he has 3 goals and 4 points in his past five games.

Injury report -- Pittsburgh will be without center Mark Letestu (knee) in addition to Crosby (concussion) and Malkin (knee). … Washington won't have the services of Semin (groin), right wing Eric Fehr (shoulder) and defenseman Tom Poti (groin).

Stat pack -- These are two teams who have been known as offensive powers since Crosby and Ovechkin have returned them to prominence, but the strength of this season's edition for both franchises is … the penalty kill? Pittsburgh is tops in the NHL at 88.7 percent and Washington is second at 86.2 percent. Pittsburgh has allowed one power-play goal in the past nine games, while Washington has yielded one in its past eight contests.

Puck drop -- With Malkin out for a while and Crosby on the mend, Jordan Staal will continue to be counted for heavy minutes and production. He made his season debut against the Capitals in the Winter Classic, and he has 8 points in the past 9 games. He and Jeffrey will center the top two lines until Crosby returns.

"The shadow if there's been any cast is by the articles and the media attention and not what he means to our team," coach Dan Bylsma said of Staal. "We all recognize [his value] and our general manager has been on record saying you win Stanley Cups with this guy. He's been an important part of our team."

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