PENGUINS (5-3-0) vs. CAPITALS (2-5-1)
WHEN: February 3, 2013 - 12:30 p.m. | WHERE: Verizon Center
After a disappointing seventh place finish in the Eastern Conference last season, the Washington Capitals, a team accustomed to vying for the Presidents’ Trophy, will look to regain their spot among the NHL elite.
There is no doubt that the Capitals will need Alex Ovechkin to have a resurgent year in order for them to bounce back this season. Ovechkin, widely considered one of the most explosive players in hockey, had an uncharacteristically unproductive season in 2011-2012, finishing with career lows in assists (27) and points (65). But Ovechkin still found the back of the net for 38 goals, good for fifth best in the league last season.
In the early part of this season, Ovechkin has continued to struggle to find the offensive firepower that made him one of the most feared men in hockey since he scored 106 points (52G-54A) as a rookie during the 2005-2006 campaign. Washington’s captain is currently sitting on just three points and two goals through his first eight games.
Washington has paired Ovechkin with center Jay Beagle and winger Joey Crabb on the top line, while Brooks Laich continues to nurse a groin injury that has kept him from action this season.
Nicklas Backstrom has centered the second line. The Caps hope Backstrom can play a complete season after missing 40 games due to a concussion in 2011-2012. Backstrom, a former-100 point scorer, has played a major role in Washington’s recent success. The 23-year-old Gavle, Sweden native might be getting hot at the right time, as his one goal and one assist were pivotal in the Caps’ 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Philadelphia Friday.
A much-needed move was made behind Beagle and Backstrom, as the Capitals acquired the additional reliable center they have needed for several seasons. Washington traded for Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for prospect Cody Eakin and the 54th overall pick of last year’s NHL Draft.
Ribeiro, an experienced veteran in his 13th NHL season, is skilled at putting his wingers in position for their best shot at goal. Heading the third line, Ribeiro currently leads Washington with eight points and seven assists.
But as Ribeiro was brought into Washington, a key piece to Washington’s puzzle ended his stint in the nation’s capital, as Alexander Semin, who has scored over 30 goals three times and over 20 in the last five seasons, joined the Capitals’ division rival the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason.
A few other familiar faces were traded or let go, including current Pens goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who is currently 2-1-0 in his first stint with Pittsburgh. With Vokoun gone, the Caps have split time between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who won his first decision in three starts this season Friday night.
CAPITALS: ALEX OVECHKIN
If Sidney Crosby is the face of the NHL, then there’s no doubt who is the runner-up. Ovechkin has demolished NHL defenses throughout his career. He employs what might be the best wrist shot in the game today and has used his absurdly bent stick blade to net 341 career goals.
PENGUINS: SIDNEY CROSBY
These matchups have become must-see television ever since the 2004-2005 season, when the NHL’s two biggest stars entered the league. On this side of that heated rivalry is Sidney Crosby, who boasts incredible career numbers against the Caps. The Pens’ captain has scored 35 points (13G-22A) in 22 regular-season contests against Washington.
- The Penguins begin a two-game road swing against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.
- Last season the Penguins finished with a winning record (2-1-1) against the Capitals for the first time since going 3-0-1 in 2007-08.
- Pittsburgh has gone 7-3-2 in its last 12 trips to the Verizon Center.
- This series has shifted from very offensive-minded to defense-oriented over the previous two seasons as both teams battled injuries. In the last eight meetings between these two teams, they have combined for 28 regulation goals (Pittsburgh, 11; Washington, 17) –an average of 3.5 goals per game. During the three years prior (’07-08 to ’09-10), they combined for 88 regulation goals (Pittsburgh, 39; Washington, 49) –an average of 7.3 goals per game.
- Each of the last five games and six of the past eight meetings between these teams have been one-goal games.
- This marks the third time in four years that the Penguins are playing the Capitals on Super Bowl Sunday.
- Pittsburgh is 2-0 this season and 12-4-1 over the previous two years in day games.
- The Penguins have scored the opening goal of the game seven times (tops in the NHL) through the first eight games.
- The Penguins complete their second of seven sets of back-to-back situations this season. Pittsburgh went 2-0 in its first back-to-back situation on opening weekend against the Flyers and Rangers.
D Matt Niskanen, lower body
D Jack Hillen, shoulder
C Brooks Laich, groin
D Dmitry Orlov, upper body