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Wednesday Night Rivalry

Penguins, Capitals set for Wednesday Night Rivalry

Crosby vs. Ovechkin, goaltending matchup among reasons to watch

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

There is never any love lost when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals face off. They'll play for the second time this season at Verizon Center in the Wednesday Night Rivalry game (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

Rivalries can often be more intense for fans than for players. But the one between the Penguins and Capitals is real. It's fueled by the fact that Pittsburgh has defeated Washington in each of its two playoff series during the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin era, as well as the competitive drive of the two stars. Being moved into the same division in 2013 has ratcheted things up even more.

Here are 5 reasons to watch this edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry:

 

Crosby vs. Ovechkin

They play different positions, but the rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin is genuine and intense. Crosby is arguably the greatest player of his generation, a scorer and playmaker who has worked on his weaknesses and turned them into strengths. Crosby always seems to be at his best in big games; he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in June and was named MVP at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Ovechkin is unquestionably the best goal scorer of his generation; he's scored 50 or more goals seven times and is a threat any time he touches the puck. At 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, Ovechkin is also a fearsome physical force who often seems to get as much pleasure out of a big hit as he does from scoring a big goal, and his defensive play has improved since the arrival of coach Barry Trotz in 2014. There have been few players like him in NHL history. Although each respects the other's accomplishments, all that does is stoke their competitive fire when they play.

 

Fast start for Crosby

Crosby has been tearing up the League since returning after missing Pittsburgh's first six games (including the season opener against Washington on Oct. 13) with a concussion. He has 10 goals in nine games, tied for second in the League, including six in his past five games. He's on pace to score more goals than Ovechkin, who has seven in Washington's first 15 games.

Video: PIT@PHI: Crosby finishes pretty passing play for PPG

 

Supporting cast

Neither Crosby nor Ovechkin has to carry his team's offense by himself. Center Evgeni Malkin leads the Penguins with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists), including six goals and 10 points in his past nine games. Forward Marcus Johansson leads Washington with 12 points, one more than Ovechkin, and players like Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie keep opponents from ganging up on Ovechkin.

Video: WSH@CHI: Johansson's OT game-winner off Orlov's dish

 

Last line of defense

For all the firepower that will be on display at Verizon Center, it could be difficult for either team to score. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who tied the League's single-season record for victories last season with 48, is 7-3-1 in his first 11 appearances with a 2.16 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. The Penguins received solid play from longtime starter Marc-Andre Fleury while playoff hero Matt Murray was out with a broken right hand sustained during the World Cup. Since his return, Murray is 4-0-0 with a 1.25 GAA and .961 save percentage.

Video: WSH@CHI: Holtby denies Blackhawks on odd man rush

 

Bad memories for Washington

The Capitals breezed to the Presidents' Trophy last season after running away with the Metropolitan Division and finishing 16 points ahead of the second-place Penguins. But Pittsburgh turned things around in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and eliminated Washington from the Eastern Conference Second Round in six games en route to winning the Stanley Cup. It was a repeat of 2009, when the Capitals finished with a better regular-season record but lost to the Penguins in the second round of the playoffs before Pittsburgh won the Cup. The Capitals also would like to avenge a 3-2 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13.

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