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Penguins go for 10 in a row

by Joey Olszewski

CAPITALS (12-15-1) at PENGUINS (22-8-0)


Last 10: Washington 5-5-0, Pittsburgh 9-1-0

Season series: It's the third and final meeting of the regular season between the Pens and Caps and Pittsburgh is looking for the series sweep.

Big Story: The Penguins are riding a nine-game winning streak going into Tuesday's game against a streaky Capitals club. It's no secret that the teams really don't like each other and Washington has its sights set on ending the Penguins' streak.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Despite beating Buffalo 5-3 at home on Sunday, Washington is on the outside looking in at the top eight in the East, and this week could make or break the Caps' playoff chances. They visit Pittsburgh, play back-to-back games in Winnipeg and finish against the Rangers in New York.

Washington could get a boost from the return of forward Brooks Laich, one of the team leaders. He hasn't played this season due to a groin injury but is almost ready to go. Laich wanted to play Sunday against Buffalo but was kept out as a precaution.

Laich spoke to the Washington Post on Sunday and addressed the issue. "I'm feeling good on the ice and I'm getting really anxious to play. I'm sure it'll be very, very soon," he said. "In my mind it's sooner than later. I'm really getting the itch, really wanting to get back in the lineup."

Braden Holtby has started the previous two games against Pittsburgh, in which the Caps have surrendered 11 goals. That could mean a start for backup Michal Neuvirth.

Penguins: Pittsburgh's defense has become as efficient as its offense, and the Penguins are the hottest team in the League. Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off a franchise-record 23rd shutout on Saturday and will be back in net against the Caps.

Fellow Quebec native Pascal Dupuis is playing on the most explosive line in hockey but was vocal about the defense after Sunday's 2-1 win against Boston kept the winning streak alive. "It's fun for a little while -- guys get points," Dupuis said of his team's offense-first mentality early in the streak. "But it's not the way to win in the playoffs, so we buckled down lately in the last couple weeks there and we are playing the right way and we're still winning games. That's the main thing there."

In their last five games the Penguins have given up only five goals -- a turnaround for a team that had a goals-against average hovering around 3.0 for much of the season.

Who's hot: Alex Ovechkin has goals in two of Washington's past three games and leads the team with 11. … Fleury has won his last four decisions and allowed only three goals while going 3-0-0 last week.

Injury report: Defensemen John Erskine (upper body), Mike Green (groin), and Tomas Kundratek (lower body) are still out, though the Capitals hope Green will play sometime during the trip. Laich (groin) could be available during the trip. … Pittsburgh is still without Evgeni Malkin (upper body), though last season's scoring leader is skating again. Defenseman Kris Letang left Sunday's game with a lower-body injury; the team said Monday he'll be evaluated again.

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