On Wednesday night the Penguins and Capitals will collide in the nation’s capital.
The last time the Pens and Caps squared off, the game was overshadowed by an incident between Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang and Washington forward Alex Ovechkin.
In the third period of a 1-1 contest Letang was corralling a loose puck in the slot when Ovechkin tomahawk-slashed Letang on the back of his leg. Letang fell to the ice and slammed back first into the end boards. He left the game, but did return later in the frame.
Following the game Ovechkin claimed he was trying to shoot the puck, an answer that Letang shrugged off, saying, “I guess he thought my leg was a puck.”
Even though the incident caused tempers to boil over in the game, the Pens have moved on. Though the Pens certainly haven’t forgotten the slash, they aren’t expecting the nastiness of the previous game to carry over.
“Maybe the intensity (will carry over), but I don’t think there will be any targeting,” Sidney Crosby said. “We’re going to play a hard game. That’s the way you need to play, especially against them. We need to make sure we’re physical. Last game, regardless of the slash, I thought we did a good job of being physical.”
The Pens (77 points) and Caps (76) are separated by one point in the Metro Division standings, though Washington has one game in hand. Pittsburgh is currently in third place while the Caps have slipped to the wild card slot. However, only two points separate Washington from second-place NY Rangers. And all three teams are nipping at the heels of division-leading NY Islanders (80 points).
For the Pens, two points is the biggest message they can deliver to the Caps.
“We’re not going for retribution or anything like that,” forward Blake Comeau said. “It’s not a matter of going out and getting even. We’re just looking to play a hard, physical game and get the win.”
NEW LINES The Pens went 2-for-2 over the weekend in their back-to-back contests against the St. Louis Blues, 4-2, and Florida Panthers, 5-1.
Many things contributed to the lopsided victories for Pittsburgh. The goaltending efforts from Marc-Andre Fleury and Thomas Greiss were spectacular. The power-play connected on 2-of-6 chances (and came a split second from a third goal). But another catalyst was the new forward combinations.
The old lines:
The Pens coaching staff rotated all four wingers around Crosby and Malkin and came up with these trios:
The switch places Perron and Comeau in their more natural positions. And so far, so good.
“(Malkin) is the kind of guy that will have the puck on his stick a lot of times, so I’m just trying to get open for shots,” Comeau said. “(Kunitz) is always around the net. He can make great plays coming out of our zone. We get the puck with a lot of speed in the neutral zone.
“All three of us have done a good job of coming together the last couple of games. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Crosby is adjusting to not having his longtime linemate Kunitz. But Hornqvist began the season on the same line, so they’re trying to build off of the early-season chemistry they both created.
“(Hornqvist) is pretty similar to ‘Kuni,’” Crosby said. “Those two guys go to the net hard. They’re on pucks. Only difference is (Hornqvist) being a right-hand shot.
“It doesn’t really change our reads and what we have to do.”
Head coach Mike Johnston likes the balance between the two lines.
“When ‘Kuni’ moved it gave us more balance between the top two lines,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to mix and match and stimulate the lines by making a change every once in a while. It’s all in preparation so that guys are ready to play with different people if they have to.”
EHRHOFF CLOSE Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (concussion protocol) participated in full contact at practice and if all goes well, he could possibly return to the lineup Wednesday night in Washington.
“He went to the next stage so that’s positive,” Johnston said. “We’ll see his reaction to the contact he had today. He could possibly be in (Wednesday), but we’d like to see him in one more practice. If he’s feeling good this afternoon and heading into tomorrow morning, then we’ll have to make him a game-time (decision).”
PRACTICE NOTES The Pens started practice with only the top two power-play units going through drills for 20 minutes. Then the rest of the team joined them for full practice. The Pens’ power play has looked much improved over the past two games, but it’s something the group continues to work on.
“Getting out early with the power-play unit, we hadn’t done that in a month or so,” Johnston said. “Just worked through our breakout reps, zone reps and do it live in practice.”
“We need to get back to doing the right things out there,” Hornqvist said. “The last three games have been really good, but we still have to work on it and get better every time we touch the ice. Hopefully, we can improve it over the last 25 games.”