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Pittsburgh vs. Washington Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (34-26-6-74) at Washington Capitals (40-21-5-85)

Where: Verizon Center
When: Sunday, March 8, 3 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: Washington goes for the series sweep in the series finale Sunday. The Capitals won the first three meetings between the two clubs.  
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Guerin-Crosby-Kunitz
Fedotenko-Malkin-Sykora
Kennedy-Staal-Cooke
Dupuis-Talbot-Adams

Defense
Orpik-Gonchar
Letang-Eaton
Scuderi-Gill

Netminder
Fleury


  Pens vs Capitals 2/22
 
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Attach: The Penguins new aggressive attack helped them string together five consecutive victories and turn their season around. Pittsburgh must build on its momentum and go after Washington full speed ahead.

Shoot the Puck: The Penguins registered a season-high 47 shots against Florida. Ever since Dan Bylsma has taken over as interim head coach, Pittsburgh has shown a willingness to shoot the puck more. The Capitals major weakness is in net and the Penguins will benefit from testing Jose Theodore.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE CAPITALS
The Washington Capitals have all but wrap up back-to-back Southeast Division championships. Head coach Bruce Boudreau, in his first full season steering the ship, has guided Washington to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and a comfortable 11-point 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. After a 9-3-1 mark in February, Washington was closing in on the top spot in the Eastern Conference. However, the Capitals lost their first three games in March and are looking to stop their losing streak against the Penguins.
 
NEW FACES
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.
 
FORWARDS
Alex Ovechkin missed a game after being hit in the foot. However, he ruled himself “100 percent” for the game against Pittsburgh.

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 second in the league in scoring with 83 points (46G-37A) while his 46 goals are by far the most in the NHL (38, Zach Parise).

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 27 goals and 35 assists for 62 points on the season. He has a five-game goal scoring streak. 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 17 goals and 52 assists for 69 points, second most on the team.

There is a huge drop off after that top line. Michael Nylander, Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are the second line, while some combination of Tomas Fleischmann, Michael Nylander, Chris Clark, Eric Fehr Brooks Laich, Donald Brashear, David Steckel and former Penguin Matt Bradley fill out the roster.
 
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 tied that output with 56 points (23G-33A) through only 53 games. His 56 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. The team hopes he’ll return against Pittsburgh. Brian Pothier (concussion), Jeff Schultz (finger/hand) and John Erskine (concussion) joined Poti on IR for a duration. With the mounting injuries, players like Bryan Helmer, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Tyler Sloan and Karl Alzner have had to handle more expanded roles. Now Pothier and Poti are the only two still hurting.
 
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 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 and on the current campaign, Theodore is 24-14-3 in 44 games with a 2.88 GAA and .900 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.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: MIKE GREEN
Green is arguably the best offensive defenseman in the National Hockey League. He leads all blueliners in goals (23) and points (56). 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) tied his career high in points, 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-21 rating.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“We’re emotional guys and we play hard. If we want to say something we say something.
It’s not a big deal.”
- Alex Ovechkin on his rivalry with Sidney Crosby to the team’s Official Website

 
POINT(S) OF INTEREST
> Dan Bylsma has a chance to record the best 10-game start for a head coach in Penguins history. Pittsburgh is 7-1-1 since Bylsma took over. Herb Brooks went 7-2-1 for Pittsburgh in 2000-01.
 

Author: Sam Kasan

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