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Pittsburgh vs. Washington Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (29-25-6-64) at Washington Capitals (37-17-5-79)

Where: Verizon Center
When: Sunday, February 22, 12:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: NBC, Nationally Televised "Game of the Week"
Season Series: The Penguins are 0-2-0 against Washington this season. 



  Pens vs. Capitals 1/14
Carry the Momentum: The Penguins are 2-0-1 under new interim head coach Dan Bylsma. The team is playing with new-found confidence Pittsburgh must carry its recent momentum into Washington against a tough opponent.

Contain Ovechkin: The Penguins may not be able to stop Alex Ovechkin, but they'd better contain him if they want to be successful. Ovechkin always plays his best against the Penguins and it will be a daunting task for the team.
The Southeast Division champion Washington Capitals are having another great 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 and a comfortable lead in the Division. 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 13-point lead in the Southeast Division and have lost once in regulation in their past six games (4-1-1).
Washington lost two goaltenders, Olaf Kolzig and Cristobal Huet, defenseman Steve Eminger and forward Matt Cooke (to Pittsburgh) in free agency. Jose 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.
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 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 75 points (42G-33A) while his 42 goals are the most in the NHL.

Alexander Semin is a legitimate all-world caliber player. He would get more attention if Ovechkin weren’t on his team. 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 was 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 nearly a point-per-game player and has compiled 21 goals and 29 assists for 50 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 15 goals and 47 assists for 62 points, second most on the team.

There is a huge drop off after that top line. Eric Fehr, Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are the second line, while some combination of Tomas Fleischmann, Michael Nylander, Chris Clark, Brooks Laich, Donald Brashear, David Steckel and former Penguin Matt Bradley fill out the roster.
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 51 points (22G-29A) through 46 games. His 51 points are most by a defenseman in the NHL.

The Capitals have suffered various injuries to their blue line but are starting to get healthy. 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. Brian Pothier (concussion), Jeff Schultz (finger/hand) and John Erskine (concussion) joined Poti on IR for a duration. The mounting injuries, players like Bryan Helmer, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Tyler Sloan and Karl Alzner have had to handle more expanded roles. Now almost everyone (except for Pothier) is healthy.
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 found 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 22-11-3 in 39 games with a 2.81 GAA and .899 save percentage. Johnson, who is currently sidelined after having hip surgery, has seen 21 contests and posted a 12-6-2 mark with a 2.81 GAA and .908 save percentage. Both goalies have had their ups and downs this season but neither man has established himself as the Capitals’ No. 1 guy. But now that Johnson is down at least until mid-March, Theodore will have a chance to stake his claim.
Green is arguably the best offensive defenseman in the National Hockey League. He leads all blueliners in goals (22) and points (51). The gifted defenseman set an NHL record for a defenseman with a goal in eight straight games (he donated the stick he used to the Hockey Hall of Fame). During that eight-game scoring streak he compiled 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points. The former first-round pick (2004, 29th overall) is five points shy of setting a new career high, set last season when he tallied 18 goals and 38 assists for 56 points. While Green’s offense gets all the attention, he is a quality defender, as evidenced by his plus-26 rating.
“It was luck, too. I fell, I shoot different side and I got it, so it's a little bit luck. It just happened.”
- Alex Ovechkin on his highlight reel goal against Montreal
The Penguins are currently 0-2-0 against the Washington Capitals. A Capitals’ win or overtime/shootout loss would give them the series. Pittsburgh has lost only one season series against Washington in the past 13 seasons.

Author: Sam Kasan

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