Pittsburgh Penguins (42-25-6-90) vs. Washington Capitals (48-14-10-106)
09-10 Season Series: Penguins trail 0-2 09-10 Away vs. Washington: Penguins trail 0-1 All-Time vs. Washington: Penguins lead 90-79-18 All-Time Away vs. Washington: Penguins trail 38-47-10 Overtime: Penguins lead 9-4-10 Shootout: Penguins lead 2-1
Washington is the only team to have already locked up a 2010 postseason berth thanks to a 31-point lead in the Southeast Division on second-place Atlanta. With the division and probably the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference safely under wraps, Washington now has its sights set on capturing the Presidents’ Trophy. The Capitals have a nine-point lead in that race over the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks. Washington is 7-1-2 since returning from the Olympic break.
Eric Belanger – General manager George McPhee was looking ahead to the playoffs when he added depth up front by plucking Belanger away from the Minnesota Wild. Belanger is the consummate third-line center – he can chip in offensively, is sound in his own end and ranks ninth in the NHL with a 56.6 success rate on draws. He has also fared well this season against Pittsburgh, scoring twice in two contests while with the Wild.
Jason Chimera – Washington added grit to their bottom lines when they acquired Chimera from Columbus earlier in the season for Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina (re-acquired by the Capitals at the trading deadline). Chimera is a solid 15-goal scorer who provides all the little things such as strong defense, a physical presence and a willingness to perform the grunt work in the corners. He has six goals and 13 points in 29 games with the Capitals. Joe Corvo – Washington probably didn’t need to add much offense to an already potent attack, but they did anyway when they traded for Corvo at the deadline. The offensive-minded blueliner battled injuries earlier in the season with Carolina, but has fit in nicely with the Capitals. Armed with a heavy slap shot, Corvo has five points (2G-3A) in eight games with Washington, including a two-goal performance against his former team last Thursday.
Nicklas Backstrom – If the NHL gave out an unsung hero award Backstrom would certainly qualify. The third-year star is a huge reason for Alex Ovechkin’s success, as Backstrom ranks fifth in the league with 59 assists. His 88 points are tied with Sidney Crosby for third in the league. Known mostly as a guy who looked to pass-first, pass-second and probably pass-third his first two seasons, Backstrom has been firing the puck more often this season, resulting in a career-high 29 goals.
Mike Knuble – Washington made one of the best signings this summer when they swiped Knuble away from the Philadelphia Flyers. The 37-year-old is one of the NHL’s best net-front presences, particularly on the man-advantage. He ranks fourth on the team with 25 goals, his seventh-straight 20-plus goal campaign, and the third consecutive year he has topped 25 tallies. Knuble is also a beast behind the net in the cycling game.
Brooks Laich – Laich has formed a lethal combo with Alexander Semin on the Washington second line. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger has watched his goal scoring numbers increase for a fourth straight season (8-21-23-24). Laich has also become a force on the power play, tying for the team lead with 11 markers. He also ranks third on the team with 210 shots, further proof he is becoming more confident with his game.
Brendan Morrison – A consistent 60-point producer in his prime, most of which was spent with the Vancouver Canucks, Morrison has regained his form as a dependable second-line center with the Capitals after struggling a bit the past two seasons. Morrison is a creative playmaker who has proven to be plenty durable throughout his career, dressing for 81 or more games seven times.
Alex Ovechkin – There is really not a whole lot you can say about the guy that hasn’t already been said. Ovechkin is making a serious run at his third straight Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer and his second Art Ross Trophy in three seasons. He leads the NHL in shots with 321 and plus/minus with a plus-42 rating. Ovechkin is deadly on the power play, where he likes to position himself at the left point where he is able to open up for one-timers from the top of the circle. He also leads the Capitals with 164 hits.
Alexander Semin – If there is anybody in the game with a wrist shot that can rival Ovechkin’s, it’s his teammate Semin. The Russian sharpshooter ranks eighth in the league with 33 goals, the third time in the past four seasons he has topped that mark. Semin is five tallies shy of tying his career high total of 38 set in ’06-07, and is eight points short of his career high in points, which he established last season. Semin ranks second on the team in shots with 242 and in game-winning goals with five.
Nicklas Backstrom Mike Knuble
Alex Ovechkin Alexander Semin
John Carlson – What a season it has been for 20-year-old Natick, Mass. native Carlson. The rookie blueliner has spent much of the season in the AHL, where his 0.81 points per game average led all defenders at the time of his recall. Then, he represented Team USA at the World Junior tournament. He scored twice against the Canadians in the championship game, including the game-winner in overtime. Now he is excelling at the highest level, picking up four assists and a plus-11 rating through his first 16 games. At 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, the sky is the limit for Carlson.
Mike Green – Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau has been campaigning on the 24-year-old’s behalf all season, but the numbers alone should go a long way towards Green perhaps picking up his first Norris Trophy. Green is the only blueliner in the league averaging better than a point per game with 70 (17G-53A) through 67 games. He leads all defensemen with 17 goals, leaving him three shy of a second straight 20-goal season, and ranks second among blueliners with a plus-30 rating. Green ranks 10th in the league with an average of 25:20 minutes of ice time per contest. Tom Poti – Although Poti doesn’t put up the offensive numbers he did earlier in his career (and really, does Washington need more offense?), he is still effective at making that first pass out of his zone and jumping into the rush to create odd-man chances when necessary. He is having one of the best all-around seasons of his career with a plus-22 rating through 61 games. One weakness to Poti’s game is his the fact that opponents can wear him down a bit in his own zone.
Jeff Schultz – Teams across the NHL spend the weeks leading up to the trading deadline searching for stay-at-home defensemen who can provide muscle and a big body heading into the playoffs. Washington had a leg up on the competition as they already had the 24-year-old Schultz already on the roster. Schultz leads all defensemen with a plus-36 rating, often using his 6-foot-6 reach to his advantage in his own zone. Schultz is also capable of effectively breaking the puck out to Washington’s dynamic group of forwards.
John Carlson Mike Green
Jose Theodore – Sometimes Theodore takes more criticism in the media than perhaps he should, but his play this season has sure silenced the doubters a bit. Theodore is currently on an 18-game unbeaten streak (16-0-2), with his last regulation loss occurring on Jan. 12 at Tampa Bay. He is four wins shy of picking up his fourth career 30-win campaign. When Theodore is at the top of his game he can move quickly from side-to-side, has a good glove hand and is effective at controlling rebounds. He looks like the choice to once again begin the playoffs as the Capitals go-to netminder.
Semyon Varlamov – Varlamov was almost unbeatable through the first three games of last season’s second-round matchup between the Penguins and Capitals. He continued that strong play at the beginning of this season before a groin injury kept him on the shelf for two months from Dec. 4 – Feb. 7. Varlamov began the season 12-1-2, but has just a 1-2-2 record since returning to the lineup. He has surrendered four or more goals in each of those five starts. Varlamov can be susceptible on shots to his glove hand.
Jose Theodore Semyon Varlamov
Scott Walker - Give Washington management credit. They realized the team needed more grit heading into the postseason so they went out at the deadline and brought in grizzled veteran Scott Walker. You might question how a player with just eight points (5G-3A) in 39 games could provide a difference, but Walker is a proven winner who will make the Capitals a lot harder to play against in a seven-game series. The 2006 Stanley Cup winner with the Carolina Hurricanes will supply the Capitals the same element players such as Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy give the Penguins. Walker picked up the game-winning goal in Game 7 last season which allowed the Hurricanes to upset the Boston Bruins in the second round.
“If you looked at right now with his experience, and taking nothing away from (Varalmov), you can see the character in him that he wants to be the guy. There’s 10 games to go until the playoffs, and we haven’t made any decisions yet, but he’s certainly making a good case for himself.” - Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau talking to CSNWashington.com on the play of Jose Theodore, who is 17-1-2 since Jan. 1.
"You can say it's regular season, but I mean you look outside, look around you, and everybody is talking about playoff races. It's warm outside. It feels like playoffs.” - Washington forward Mike Knuble speaking to the Washington Post.
"Don't stop playing how you play.” - Washington’s Alex Ovechkin talking to the Washington Post about his recent two-game suspension for a hit on Chicago’s Brian Campbell.
58 Washington leads the NHL with 283 goals, 58 more than the Penguins, who have the second-highest total in the Eastern Conference
7 The Capitals have seven players with six or more power-play goals on the season including: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich (11), Mike Green (9), Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann (7) and Mike Knuble (6)