Washington Capitals (25-19-2, 52 points, 8th in Eastern Conference) at Pittsburgh Penguins (26-17-6, 60 points, 6th in Eastern Conference)
Sunday, January 22, 12:30 p.m.
While meetings between the Capitals and the Penguins may not have quite the same level of vitriol with Pittsburgh’s captain still out with concussion symptoms, it’s pretty safe to say there’s still no love lost between the two.
Unfortunately, concussions have been too prominent a theme in the NHL this year. Sidney Crosby is still undergoing treatment for lingering symptoms and closer to home, our own Nicklas Backstrom is one of a string of stars sidelined by a head injury. The Penguins saw the return of one their other key cogs, Kris Letang just this week. Letang missed 21 games with a concussion suffered at the hands of the Habs back in November. The mop-haired defenseman wasn’t the only casualty that night; one of the Pens’ other top defensemen, Zbynek Michalek, also left with a head injury. Jay Beagle’s pal, Arron Asham, is the latest player to be felled by a concussion; he is out indefinitely and won’t be suiting up against the Caps on Sunday.
The injury-plagued Penguins have been cursed with the same inconsistency as the Capitals of late. They lost their first four games in the month of January, but the victory against the Rangers Wednesday and Montreal Friday puts them on a five-game winning streak.
Despite the injuries, handily beating the league-leading Rangers is evidence that they’re still not a team to be taken lightly. Evgeni Malkin scored two of Penguins four goals against the Blue Shirts, boosting his points total to 54. Geno’s latest performance places him in first place atop NHL point leaders. Malkin and his line mates James Neal and Chris Kunitz, have accounted for half of the Pens’ goals this year. Friday, the Pens overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third period to tie the Canadiens at 17:17, and went on to win in a shootout.
The Capitals normally have no problem ramping their game up when it comes to the Pens and they’ve won two of the last three contests. In the absence of Backstrom, Marcus Johansson has stepped up and has set his career high in assists and game-winning goals this season (3). It remains to be seen which net minder will get the start in the Steel City, but Michal Neuvirth certainly made a case for himself with his shutout performance in Montreal.
The Caps come off a strange week where they’ve played in three straight 3-0 shutouts, losing to the Islanders at home, winning in Montreal, and losing again in Carolina, where once again they looked lifeless and disinterested. The Pittsburgh game comes at the end of a three-game road trip, and the Caps need to put in a good performance for their own confidence.
With both teams fighting to advance their standings in the Eastern Conference in a nationally televised game (sure to be full of insightful commentary by everyone’s favorite, Mike Milbury), there’s sure to be no shortage of fireworks.