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Penguins vs. Capitals Game Preview

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins

Home: 12-6-1-25
Road: 11-4-1-23

WHEN: Dec. 23, 2010 - 7:00 pm   |   WHERE: Verizon Center
FSN  |  LISTEN: Pens HD Radio, 105.9 FM
Washington Capitals
Home: 13-4-3-29

  Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals 
Brooks Laich
C  -  #21
  8 Goals
  14 Assists
  22 Points
• Is excelling on special teams with the Capitals this season, scoring four power-play goals, five power-play assists and one shorthanded goal.

• The alternate captain put up personal-bests last season with Washington, posting career-highs across the board with 25 goals, 34 assists and 59 points.

• Was sent to Washington from Ottawa, the team that drafted him in the 6th round (193rd overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, in exchange for Peter Bondra on Feb. 18, 2004.
John Carlson
D  -  #74
  4 Goals
  13 Assists
  17 Points
• The Natick, Mass. native scored two goals, including the overtime winner, to lift the United States to a 6-5 victory over Canada in the gold medal game of the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship.

• The 20-year-old blueliner leads team defensemen with 17 points (4G-13A) while pacing the squad with 72 blocked shots.

• After being drafted by the Capitals in the 1st round (27th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, he put up 76 points (16G-60A) in 59 games with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League in the 2008-09 campaign.
Scott Hannan
D  -  #23
  0 goals
   6 assists 
  6 points
• Was dealt to the Capitals from Colorado on Nov. 30 in exchange for forward Tomas Fleischmann.

• Was selected to play in the 2004 NHL All-Star game in his fourth full season with San Jose, the team that drafted him in the 1st round (23rd overall) in the 1997 Entry Draft.

• The gritty shutdown defenseman ranked 24th in the league last season with 144 blocked shots in 81 games played for the Avalanche.
While Penguins fans have seen the Washington Capitals on television in the first two episodes of HBO Sports’ “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic,” Thursday marks the first time Pittsburgh will face their Eastern Conference rival on the ice this season.

When the premiere episode debuted on Dec. 15, Washington was in the midst of one of their worst losing streaks in franchise history, as the Capitals dropped eight straight games from Dec. 2 to Dec. 18. They’ve since snapped out of their funk with two consecutive wins, toppling New Jersey 5-1 on Tuesday after capturing a 3-2 victory over Ottawa on Dec. 19. And despite their skid, the Capitals are still in first place in the Southeast Division with 44 points.

Washington’s star forwards lead the team’s scoring, with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin ranking 1-2-3, respectively. The trio has a combined 106 points, with Ovechkin’s 39 points and Semin’s 18 goals pacing the squad.

But despite their big numbers, those players have struggled to find the back of the net recently. Ovechkin has just two goals over his past 18 games, Semin hasn’t tallied in his past eight contests and Backstrom is scoreless in his past 10 games.

It’s been Washington’s young guns that have stepped up to break the Capitals’ skid. After being recalled from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Dec. 15, rookie Andrew Gordon scored his first two NHL points, a goal and an assist, versus the Devils. Fellow rookie Jay Beagle chipped in a goal and second-year defenseman John Carlson also added a goal and an assist.

Michal Neuvirth has stepped up between the pipes with the departure of last season’s No. 1 goalie Jose Theodore. Neuvirth, 22, has backstopped his way to a 14-6-2 record, making 35 stops against the Devils to earn the win on Tuesday. He’s joined in the cage by Semyon Varlamov, who earned a 15-4-8 record last season as Theodore’s backup. Varlamov, also 22, has appeared in 10 games so far this year, going 4-4-2.
  • This is the first of two highly-anticipated meetings in 10 days between the teams, as they will collide at Heinz Field on New Year's Day in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
  • The two HBO camera crews will clash on Thursday when the Penguins and the Capitals face off at Verizon Center in Washington. This is the first time they’ll meet since they began filming their respective teams on Dec. 5, as HBO Sports assigned a separate eight-person crew to follow each squad. They’ll continue filming each team until after New Year’s Day.
  • A point against Washington would make Sidney Crosby the first NHL player since Mats Sundin in 1992-93 to record a point in at least 23 straight games. Crosby’s current 22-game point streak (22G-21A) is the second-longest (tied) in the NHL since Sundin’s 30-game streak with the Quebec Nordiques in 1992-93.
  • The Penguins are looking for their first win against the Capitals since defeating Washington 6-2 in Game 7 in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Capitals won all four regular-season meetings between the two teams last season.
  • While the Capitals won twice in regulation at Mellon Arena by scores of 6-3, the Penguins finagled a total of two points from both of their contests at Verizon Center. Pittsburgh fell in overtime, 5-4, on Feb. 7 before losing in a shootout, 4-3, on March 24.
  • Penguins captain Sidney Crosby led the way against Washington last season. He tallied seven points (4G-3A) in four games, with his best nights coming when he scored two goals on Feb. 7 at Verizon Center before notching a goal and two assists on April 6 at Mellon Arena.
  • Crosby and Ovechkin entered the March 24 game tied for the NHL overall scoring lead with 45 points each. They finished the game still deadlocked for the top spot, as each player got an assist in the Capitals’ 4-3 shootout win. They then entered the April 6 contest tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead with 48 tallies apiece. Ovechkin scored two goals that night to Crosby’s one to temporarily assume the lead.


Keep The PK Clicking: The Penguins killed off eight Coyotes power plays for a perfect night on the penalty kill on Monday at CONSOL Energy Center. While Pittsburgh would prefer to visit the sin bin less, they’ll still need to keep their No. 1-ranked PK unit clicking against a team like Washington. The Capitals’ power play has been struggling lately, but is still ranked 10th in the league with a 20-percent success rate and could reheat at any time with a player like Alex Ovechkin leading his crew of snipers.

Keep Their Top Players Contained: The Capitals’ top players have been slumping lately, and Pittsburgh’s shutdown defense, led by Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, need to keep them in their funk. Top-caliber players like Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom need just one big night to get them going again, and the Penguins need to play them tough to stave off any potential resurgences.

C Jordan Staal, broken right hand (up to 2 weeks)
F Mike Comrie, hip (12)
D Jeff Schultz, broken thumb (2 weeks)
RW Boyd Gordon, undisclosed (indefinitely)
Crosby (28) Semin (18)
Crosby (30) Ovechkin (27)
Crosby (58) Ovechkin (39)
Engelland (74) Hendricks (59)
Letang (+18) Laich (+11)
Crosby (9) Semin (6)
Cooke (2)
Four tied with (1)
Fleury (15-7-1) Neuvirth (14-6-2)
Johnson (2.14) Varlamov (2.54)
Johnson (.925) Neuvirth (.910)

Sidney Crosby - Sidney Crosby has a point in 22-straight contests, the longest scoring streak in the post-lockout era, tying Dany Heatley’s 2005 stretch. He's now tied for the second-longest streak since Mats Sundin's 30-game stretch in 1993. Crosby has 43 points (22G-21A) over his streak, extending his lead in the NHL’s scoring race. He now has 58 points, 11 points ahead of second-place Steven Stamkos.
Mathieu Perreault - Perreault exploded with a two-goal effort to power the Capitals past the Senators 3-2 on Dec. 19, helping snap Washington’s eight-game losing streak. The 22-year-old center had missed the Capitals’ 3-2 loss to Boston the night before due to illness, but didn’t miss a beat in his return to the lineup as he capitalized on two of his four shots. Perreault, who was recalled from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Dec. 6, has now played 10 games with the Capitals this season. The forward has tallied six points (4G-2A) in those contests.

Notebook: Lovejoy Notches First NHL Goal
Aftermath: Penguins 5, Panthers 2
Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Florida 
Sixteen Penguins Excited to Participate in First Winter Classic
Crew Preparing to Start Rink at Heinz Field
Malkin Joins Crosby, Letang Among Potential All-Star Starters
Penguins Report: Practice 12/21/10 
Penalty Kill Punctuates Win
Two-Headed Monster
Aftermath: Penguins 6, Coyotes 1

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Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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