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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Capitals

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (22-8-0) vs. CAPITALS (12-15-1)
WHEN: March 19, 2013 - 7:30 p.m.  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS, NBC Sports Network  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

Entering their game on Sunday against Buffalo, the Capitals had lost four of five games and had scored just seven times during that stretch. But the Caps broke out of their offensive slump with a big 5-3 win over the Sabres. Alex Ovechkin scored his team-leading 11th goal in the game, while linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had two-point nights. Perhaps that game will jumpstart increased production from Washington’s top players like Ovechkin and Backstrom, who has just three goals in 28 games. Right now, the team’s scoring leader is Mike Ribeiro with 31 points (10G-21A).

The Capitals begin a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh feeling good after beating Buffalo, but they still have a lot of work to do to make the playoffs. It seemed like the Capitals were turning their season around when they recently won five of six games, only to go on a stretch where they lost four of six. With 20 games left in the season and seven points behind Southeast Division leader Winnipeg, getting wins this week is crucial for the Capitals. “It’s biggest week for us,” Alex Ovechkin told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “How we going to play this week, we can end the season this week or we continue to fight for the playoffs.”

They should get a lif Tuesday when heart-and-soul winger and team leader Brooks Laich returns to the lineup. Laich, who had been out with a groin injury, is officially making his season debut against Pittsburgh. However, it looks like the Capitals will still be without top defenseman Mike Green, who has yet to play this month with a groin injury.

Despite Green’s absence, Washington’s power play is back to being one of the best in the NHL after being ineffective early this season. It now ranks third in the league with a 24.5 percent success rate. Seven of Ovechkin’s 11 goals have come on the power play, which is tied for fifth in the league. Sixteen of Ribeiro’s 31 points have come on the man-advantage, and he and Troy Brouwer each have five power-play goals. Defenseman John Carlson has been playing the point with Green sidelined, while Backstrom and Joel Ward round out the first unit.

Goalie Braden Holtby started both losses against Pittsburgh this season, getting pulled in the second game. But he bounced back after that, winning eight of his next 11 starts – and the team rewarded him with a two-year contract extension a few weeks ago. He will be starting in goal against the Penguins.

(Getty Images)

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Joel Ward
Brooks Laich - Jay Beagle - Matt Hendricks

Karl Alzner - Steve Oleksy
Jack Hillen - John Carlson

Jeff Schultz - Dmitry Orlov

(Getty Images)

Ribeiro has done well against the Penguins in both meetings between the teams this season, totaling four points (2G-2A) in those contests. The veteran center leads the Capitals with 31 points, is tied for first with 21 assists and ranks second behind Alex Ovechkin with 10 goals. Ribeiro has been especially effective on the power play, as 16 of his 31 points have come with the man-advantage.

Orpik had a beast of a performance on Sunday against the Bruins, finishing the game with seven hits and six blocked shots. He leads the NHL in the latter category with 84 in 30 games. The Penguins will be counting on Orpik to frustrate and shut down the Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, especially if Kris Letang does not play in the contest. Orpik will also be tasked with tough shorthanded minutes against Washington's talented power play.

-Pittsburgh has won a season-high nine-straight games – the second-longest streak in the NHL this year.
-The Penguins have won seven-straight home games.
-Pittsburgh has won both meetings against the Capitals this season – ensuring that they will finish with a winning record against Washington for the second-straight season.
-The Penguins are 2-0-1 in their last three home games against Washington.
-Pittsburgh has won three straight games overall against the Capitals.

The Penguins have won a season-high nine-straight games entering Tuesday's contest. During the streak, they have outscored foes by a 37-22 margin. Pittsburgh is averaging 4.1 goals per game while posting a goals-against average of 2.42. Six of the nine wins have been one-goal wins – with another a 3-1 victory coming thanks to an empty-net tally. Pittsburgh’s goaltenders have combined to post a .912 save percentage (227 saves/249 shots).

The Penguins have posted a 21-2-1 record over their last 24 home games against Southeast Division teams entering Tuesday’s contest. That number includes a current 15-game home unbeaten stretch (14-0-1) against the Southeast. This year, the Penguins are 4-0 at home against teams from the Southeast Division.

The Penguins’ 9-0 record in March has them in position to challenge the franchise record for most wins during a calendar month. In 2006-07, the Penguins established a team record by winning 12 games during March (12-3-2). Pittsburgh will have six chances throughout the remainder of the month to get the three/four wins it needs to equal or better that mark.

Pittsburgh’s PK unit has killed off 11 of its past 12 (91.7%) shorthanded chances over the last five games. The Penguins have gone three straight games without allowing a power-play goal. Should they hold Washington without a man-advantage tally Tuesday, it will mark the first time they have gone four straight games without allowing a power-play goal since going nine straight games between Feb. 26-March 17 of last season. Pittsburgh has now held its opposition without a power-play goal in seven of the previous 10 games entering tonight. This season, the Penguins are 14-1 when they don’t allow a power-play goal; versus just an 8-7 record when they do.

Head coach Dan Bylsma said following Tuesday's morning skate that Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang will not be in the lineup against Washington. Matt Cooke, who did not participate in morning skate, and the rest of the lineup will be game-time decisions. Bylsma added that if Cooke is unavailable to play, the team will dress seven defensemen.

Malkin, who has missed the past five games with an upper-body injury, worked prior to the team's morning skate with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. Malkin remained on the ice for the team's morning skate. 


D Kris Letang, lower body
F Evgeni Malkin, upper body


D John Erskine, upper body
D Mike Green, groin
D Tomas Kundratek, lower body
F Brooks Laich, groin
D Tom Poti, upper body

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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