Pittsburgh Penguins (45-26-7-97) vs. Washington Capitals (52-15-12-116)
09-10 Season Series: Penguins trail 0-1-2 09-10 Home vs. Washington: Penguins trail 0-1 All-Time vs. Washington: Penguins lead 90-79-19 All-Time Home vs. Washington: Penguins lead 52-32-8 Overtime: Penguins lead 9-4-11 Shootout: Series tied 2-2
With three games remaining in the regular-season for the Capitals following their tussle with Boston on Monday night, there is really little for Washington to play for besides honing their game for postseason play. The Capitals clinched their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy with San Jose’s loss on Sunday, earning Washington home ice throughout the playoffs. With remaining tilts with the Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers and Bruins (again), Washington will have a huge say in how the Eastern Conference playoff field unfolds.
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, picking up points in all three contests he has played against them (2G-1A). 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 16 points in 35 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. Corvo has collected five points (2G-3A) in 14 games with the Capitals, although he has a minus-4 rating in Washington.
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 62 assists. Backstrom ranks fourth in the NHL scoring race with a career-high 92 points (30G-62A). However, much like Ovechkin, Backstrom has been in a bit of a slump lately with just four tallies over his last 18 games.
Tomas Fleischmann – The 25-year-old Czech forward is having a career year while helping anchor Washington’s potent second line. Not only are Fleischmann’s offensive numbers way up, his play away from the puck has also improved as his plus-9 rating marks the first time in his career his rating has been in the black figures. Fleischmann represented the Czech Republic at the 2010 Olympic Games, notching three points (1G-2A) in five games.
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 26 goals, his seventh-straight 20-plus goal campaign, and the third consecutive year he has topped 25 tallies. Knuble has notched the game-winning score in each of Washington’s last two wins against Pittsburgh – an overtime power-play marker on Feb. 7 and the game-deciding goal in the shootout March 24. Brooks Laich – Laich has formed a lethal combo with Alexander Semin on the 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 second on the team with 11 markers. He ranks third on the team with 215 shots, further proof he is becoming more confident with his game. Laich did not dress against the Penguins on March 24 after taking a puck in the eye at practice the previous day.
Alex Ovechkin – Ovechkin is having another dominating season, ranking second behind Henrik Sedin with 102 points (46G-56A). As great a season as it has been for the 24-year-old, he’s been relatively quiet by his lofty standards since notching a hat trick against the Penguins on Feb. 7. In the 17 games since, Ovechkin has just four goals and 16 points. He had just one assist and four shots on goal against Pittsburgh on March 24, a far cry from the seven points (5G-2A) he posted the first two contests.
Alexander Semin – While Ovechkin has gone cold, his Russian cohort Semin has more than picked up the slack. With seven goals over his previous nine games, Semin now has 38 on the season, tying his career high set during the ’06-07 season. Semin’s goal-scoring total ranks eighth in the league through Monday. Semin’s shorthanded goal in the third period on March 24 served as the springboard for Washington’s comeback against the Penguins. He is two points shy of tying last season’s career high of 79 points.
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 five points (1G-4A) and a plus-11 rating through his first 20 games. He picked up his first NHL goal March 25 at Carolina. 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 74 (19G-55A) through 73 games. He leads all defensemen with 19 goals, leaving him one short of a second straight 20-goal season, and ranks second among blueliners with a plus-35 rating. Green ranks 10th in the league with an average of 25:26 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-23 rating through 67 games. One weakness to Poti’s game is the fact that opponents can wear him down a bit in his own zone.
Jeff Schultz – Teams across the NHL spend search for stay-at-home defensemen who can provide muscle and a big body heading into the playoffs. Washington has 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-38 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 – Theodore has had an outstanding regular season for the Capitals, as his 28 wins prior to Monday leave him two shy of a fourth career 30-win campaign. He has been especially good since Jan. 12, posting a 21-game unbeaten streak (18-0-3). All that said, Theodore is going to be judged by how he performs in the postseason. Capitals fans hope that goes better than it did last year, when he was pulled by head coach Bruce Boudreau after surrendering four goals on 21 shots (.810 save percentage) against the New York Rangers in the first round.
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 2-3-3 record since returning to the lineup. Varlamov, who can be susceptible on shots to his glove hand, is expected to begin the postseason as the backup to Theodore, but Boudreau will have little hesitation calling his number if Theodore struggles at all.
Jose Theodore Semyon Varlamov
David Steckel - Alex Ovechkin and Co. might have the biggest say in the Capitals’ postseason fortunes, but the fact remains that if Washington desires to go deep into the playoffs, its role players such as Steckel who will ultimately determine their fortune. Steckel is Washington’s top defensive forward, so he will once again be asked to help keep opposing stars such as Sidney Crosby off the board in a checking role. Steckel will also be asked to chip in clutch goals – like the overtime winner he scored in Game 6 at Mellon Arena last spring. Steckel also ranks second in the NHL with a 59.6 percent success rate on faceoffs.
“He was fabulous. Mike Green was fabulous tonight, notwithstanding scoring the winning goal. I just thought every time on he was a force, defensively. Not necessarily offensively, but he was a force defensively. He just doesn’t get the recognition that he should defensively.” - Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau talking to the Capitals official team website about the play of Mike Green following a 3-2 victory over Columbus on Saturday.
"People have been talking about that, and actually, quite frankly, it [angers me] when they say we're sailing through to the postseason. We want to win hockey games, and when we don't win hockey games, we go home frustrated and upset, and nobody wants that feeling ever.” - Washington forward Brooks Laich speaking to the Washington Post on people speculating the Capitals might coast through the regular season after winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
" I would like to see us get to our game, play our game, play for 60 minutes and play Pittsburgh Penguins hockey. That’s what we are looking to do tomorrow.” - Dan Bylsma
51, 23 Washington has already set team records for wins (51) and road victories (23) heading into Monday night’s contest with Boston
18-0-3 Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore has posted an impressive 18-0-3 unbeaten streak in goal dating back to Jan. 12