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Pittsburgh vs. Washington Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


 THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (21-19-4-44) vs. Washington Capitals (27-14-3-57)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Wednesday, January 14, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: The Penguins are 0-1-0 against Washington this season after losing the first meeting, 4-3, at Mellon Arena Oct. 16.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Cooke-Crosby-Malkin
Minard-Staal-Sykora
Kennedy-Talbot-Satan
Bissonnette-Jeffrey-Godard

Defense
Orpik-Whitney
Letang-Scuderi
Goligoski-Gill

Netminder
Fleury


Pens vs. Capitals 10/16/08
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Trap: The Penguins employed a 1-2-2 neutral zone trap against Philadelphia and the new strategem proved successful. The Penguins smothered the Flyers highly-ranked offense and frustrated them. Pittsburgh will likely stick with that plan against the offensively talented Capitals. But Pittsburgh shouldn't expect to have instant success. Philadelphia wasn't prepared for the Penguins' trap. Washington will be ready for it.

Forget Yesterday: The Penguins haven't won back-to-back games in nearly two months. Every time they win a game, they talk about building off of that victory. However, Pittsburgh would be better served if they forgot about the Philadelphia game altogether and play with that same desperation against Washington. The Penguins need to really buy into the one-game-at-a-time approach. Momentum will build naturally over time with a couple of wins.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE CAPITALS
The Southeast Division champion Washington Capitals are off to a great start this season. Head coach Bruce Boudreau, in his first full season steering the ship, has guided Washington to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Boudreau was last season’s Jack Adams Award winner – Coach of the Year - after taking over the team in late November and leading the Capitals in one of the most dramatic mid-season turnarounds in recent history - from the worst record in the league to a division title and playoff berth. On the current campaign, Washington played well through the first two months of the season and then exploded in December, going 11-3-0 and surging in the standings. The Capitals have a comfortable 10-point lead in the Southeast Division and are closing in on the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the East. Washington is sliding lately, as it carries a three-game losing stretch into Pittsburgh. The Capitals would love to take some of their frustrations out on Pittsburgh and get back on the winning track at the Penguins' expense.

The Penguins-Capitals rivalry dates back to the 1990s when the two teams met in the postseason seven times from 1991 to 2001 - with Pittsburgh triumphant in six of those series. The arrival of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby reignited the matchup as the two battled for NHL supremacy. Add in the brewing competiveness between Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Semin’s incendiary comments about Crosby (links), and the game takes on a life of its own.
 
NEW FACES
Washington lost two goaltenders, Olaf Kolzig and Cristobal Huet, defenseman Steve Eminger and forward Matt Cooke (to Pittsburgh) in free agency. Theodore was the only offseason addition the team made. But if Theodore can play like he did a few years ago, Washington will make a deep playoff run.
 
FORWARDS
What else is there to say about Ovechkin that hasn’t already been said? He’s the league’s biggest diva with his tinted visor, long hair and flashy celebrations. What’s more, he has his own clothing line (seriously, check it out at oviestyle.com). But the man simply brings it on the ice. He walked away with four trophies last season - Hart, Lester B. Pearson, Art Ross and Maurice Richard - after posting 112 points with 65 goals and 47 assists. He’s a threat every time the puck is on his stick. Ovechkin shoots from impossible angles and is the deadliest sniper in the league. He is third in the league in scoring with 54 points (27G-27A) while his 27 goals are second most (tied) in the NHL.

Alexander Semin is a legitimate all-world caliber player. He would get more attention if Ovechkin weren’t on his team. Since the NHL lockout, Semin has 152 points (80G-72A) in 166 games. The former first-round pick (13th overall, 2002) was off to a phenomenal start this season. Semin led the NHL with 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points in his first 16 games and staking his claim as the best player in the league. Then he suffered a muscle strain in his side and missed 12 games. Since returning, Semin has been a point-per-game player and has compiled 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points on the season. Nicklas Backstrom, filling out the top line, is entering his second NHL season after posting 69 points in his rookie campaign. He was a runner-up for the Calder Trophy and has elevated his play this season with 12 goals and 33 assists for 45 points.

There is a huge drop off after that top line. Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich and Viktor Kozlov are the second line, while some combination of Tomas Fleischmann, Michael Nylander, Chris Clark, Donald Brashear, David Steckel and former Penguin Matt Bradley fill out the roster. Veteran forward Sergei Fedorov, who has 12 points in 16 games this year, has been plagued with injuries throughout the season. He is currently listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury.
 
DEFENSEMEN
Washington’s offense gets a lot of the attention - and deservedly so - but the defense is one of the most underrated units in the league. The team could always score but it was their defensive improvement that catapulted their turnaround last season. Mike Green is one of the deadliest scoring defenseman in the league. Last season, the 23-year-old Calgary native recorded 18 goals and 38 assists for 56 points. Green has compiled 30 points (11G-19A) through 31 games this season and has the third-most points by a blueliner in the Eastern Conference. His plus-14 rating leads the Capitals.

Tom Poti, an offensively gifted defenseman, was settling in nicely in his first season with the club when a groin injury in late December landed him on injured reserve. The medical report for the Washington defense is growing with Brian Pothier (concussion), Jeff Schultz (finger/hand) and John Erskine (concussion) joining Poti. With the mounting injuries, players like Bryan Helmer, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Tyler Sloan and Karl Alzner have had to handle more expanded roles.
 
GOALTENDING
The Capitals had instability at the goaltending position last season, waiting for one of three men to establish themselves. Now, Olaf Kolzig and Cristobal Huet departed via free agency. Brent Johnson finds himself once again splitting time, now with former league MVP and Vezina Trophy winner Jose Theodore. The former Canadien and Avalanche netminder is looking to resurrect his career after a few shaky seasons. He appeared to rebound last season, going 28-21-3 with a 2.44 goals against average and .910 save percentage. On the current campaign, Theodore is 14-8-1 in 26 games with a 2.94 GAA and .893 save percentage. Johnson has seen 20 contests and posted an 11-6-2 mark with a 2.75 GAA and .909 save percentage. Both goalies have had their ups and downs this season but neither man has established himself as the Capitals’ No. 1 guy.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: NICKLAS BACKSTROM
Nicklas Backstrom is centering a line between two of the best hockey players in the world in Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. But the former fourth-overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft wouldn’t be in such a lofty position if he hadn’t earned it. Backstrom hit the ground running in his rookie season by posting 14 goals and 55 assists last year. Backstrom, who finished second to Chicago’s Patrick Kane for Rookie of the Year, took a while to adjust to the NHL level but really came on late in the season, posting 55 points (12G-43A) in his last 45 games. He added four goals and two assists (six points) in six playoff games against Philadelphia. Backstrom rode the late-season success into the current campaign. Through 44 games this year, he’s posted 12 goals and 33 assists. His 33 setups are the fourth most in the Eastern Conference. At just 21 years old, Backstrom is a Capitals’ alternate captain, and is blossoming into a first-class playmaker.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“We were up 3-0 and lost the lead. It was a tough one that way but our focus was there. As long as we have that same focus, that’s fine no matter if it’s that game or any other game. We stick together and focus on what you have to do.”
- Sidney Crosby
 
HEAD-TO-HEAD
Here is a statistical comparison of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin at this juncture in their careers:

Crosby vs. NHL
256 games played, 116 goals, 233 assists, 349 points, 1.4 points per game

Ovechkin vs. NHL
286 games played, 190 goals, 174 assists, 364 points, 1.3 points per game

Crosby vs. Washington
12 games played, 7 goals, 14 assists, 21 points, 1.75 points per game

Ovechkin vs. Pittsburgh
13 games played, 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 points, 1.2 points per game

In the 12 games that Crosby and Ovechkin have played against each other, the Penguins are 10-2-0.
 

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