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Penguins visit Caps in Winter Classic warmup

by Sergei J. Feldman /

PENGUINS (23-10-2) at CAPITALS (20-12-4)

TV -- NHL NETWORK-US (HD), FS-Pittsburgh (HD), CSN-DC (HD)

Last 10 -- Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Washington 2-6-2

Season series -- In the first of four showdowns this season between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses, the Pittsburgh Penguins will look to avenge last season's sweep by the Caps.

Big story -- The League's hottest rivalry will take center stage in what will be the preview to the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Cameras will also be rolling for the much discussed HBO reality show, "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic." Both teams enter this game having won their last two games.

Team Scope:

Penguins -- After hitting a pothole with consecutive losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers after winning 12 in a row, the Penguins appear to have found their game again. Led by the two-headed monster of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pens have blown out their last two opponents, Phoenix and Florida, by a combined score of 11-3.

Coach Bylsma on if the team looks forward to the game:

"Not really. I mean, are we anxious to play them and do we know it's a big game? Yeah, for sure," the head coach said. "That game has always got a lot to it for our team - playing against a good team, one of the best teams in the East."

Capitals -- After eight consecutive losses, the Caps are putting the wheels back on the bus. They snapped the drought by rallying for a 3-2 win at Ottawa on Sunday, then made it two in a row by whipping New Jersey 5-1 on Tuesday.

But beating the struggling Senators and dreadful Devils is one thing. Knocking off the powerful Penguins is quite another.

"They might be the best team in the league right now," goaltender Michal Neuvirth said, "so we've got to be ready and we got to bring our best."

Who's hot -- Crosby enters the highly anticipated match with a 22-game point streak, a career-high, while Caps' superstar Alex Ovechkin looks to extend his point streak to four games. Neuvirth has allowed just three goals in winning the Caps' last two games.

Injury report -- Forwards Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr are expected to be in the lineup against the Penguins after recovering from personal and undisclosed issues, while Matt Bradley is out miss 2-4 weeks with a fractured finger. … The Penguins may be without the services of backup goalie Brent Johnson, who left Wednesday night's game in the second period with a lower body injury.

Stat pack -- Crosby leads the NHL in goals (28) and points (58) and is two assists shy of leading the NHL in that category as well.

Puck drop -- With all the buildup to this game, the Penguins had to work hard to keep their focus on Florida during Wednesday's game, especially after jumping to a quick 3-1 lead. The Panthers outshot them 29-17 during the final two periods.

"We had the lead but we probably could have done a better job - I think partly because we're thinking about tomorrow," Crosby said.

HBO's "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" will feature this first Pens-Caps game of the 2010-11 season in its third installment on Dec. 29.

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