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What To Watch For: Pens vs. Caps

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (26-17-4) vs. CAPITALS (25-19-2)

Jan. 22, 2012 - 12:30 pm  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center

WATCH: NBC  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

Will the Pens face Michal Neuvirth for the first time this season? (Getty Images)
The Capitals enter Sunday’s game – the last of a three-game road trip – at the top of the Southeast Division standings, which places them third in the Eastern Conference. But their hold there is precarious, as Washington and Florida each have 52 points through 46 games played, and they could find themselves on the outside looking in at a moment’s notice.

After playing 43 games this season without being shut out, the Caps have now been held scoreless in two of their past three outings, getting blanked by identical scores of 3-0 – first to the Islanders on Jan. 17 and again on Friday against the Hurricanes. What’s worrisome for the Caps is that there are more problems to their game than a lack of offense and an inability to sustain a consistent forecheck. They’re being hemmed in their own zone, are being outworked on special teams and have been outshot in 12 of their last 13 games.

The score could have been a lot worse against Carolina if it weren’t for goalie Tomas Vokoun. The veteran netminder was the lone highlight of the outing for Washington, doing everything he could to try and steal a win for his team as he made several spectacular saves and thwarted plenty of quality scoring chances, but it wasn’t enough. Vokoun has gotten the nod for each of the previous three meetings with Pittsburgh and has stopped 102 of 106 shots faced against the Penguins. However, backup Michal Neuvirth sparkled in his last start on Jan. 18 vs. Montreal, making 31 saves to earn a shutout against the Canadiens. Head coach Dale Hunter said he already knows whether Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth will start against Pittsburgh, but kept mum during his post-practice address to the media on Saturday.


Chimera has two of Washington’s three goals in the team’s last two meetings with Pittsburgh. He’s got 14 on the season and is just three shy of matching his career high set back in 2005-06. The 32-year-old winger has blinding speed and good size (6-foot-3, 213 pounds), and that combination makes him tough to battle on the forecheck. Granted, Washington’s play in the offensive zone has been lackluster lately, but look to a player like Chimera, currently playing left wing on the Caps’ checking line, to spark it.

The last game between these two teams was a physical, tight-checking affair that had a playoff-type atmosphere – and that passion and intensity set the stage for the Pens to end their six-game losing streak. Look for Chris Kunitz, who leads all Pittsburgh forwards (and second on the team) with 102 hits, to bring exactly that type of game to CONSOL Energy Center on Sunday. Not only will it set a much-needed hard-nosed tone in a much earlier start time then the team is accustomed to, but it’ll continue to create time and space for linemates Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

The Penguins enter Sunday’s game having won a season-high (tied) five straight games, which they also did previously from Oct. 17-27. A win would mark the Penguins’ first six-game winning streak since winning 12 straight games between Nov. 17 and Dec. 11, 2010.

A win Sunday afternoon would mean that the Penguins will finish with a winning record against the Capitals for the first time since going 3-0-1 in the 2007-08 season.

All three games this season between the Penguins and Capitals have been one-goal contests. The two teams have played four-straight one-goal games dating back to last seaon.

The Pens had an update on the status of captain Sidney Crosby. He traveled to California on Friday to visit with Dr. Robert S. Bray. Full details here.

For the Caps, leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom has missed nine straight games since suffering an apparent head injury after being elbowed by Calgary’s Rene Borque on Jan. 3. He was placed on injured reserve Jan. 11 and there is no timetable for his return.

In addition, defenseman Mike Green underwent successful sports hernia surgery on Jan. 17 and is expected to be sidelined 4-6 weeks.

F Arron Asham, illness/concussion-like symptoms (4)
C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (20)
D Simon Despres, knee (7)
F Jordan Staal, knee (9)

F Nicklas Backstrom, undisclosed (9)
D Mike Green, sports hernia surgery (8)
D Tom Poti, groin (46)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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