The previous five matchups have featured the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins game against the grinding Washington Capitals necessities. The Penguins (10-6-1) have won four of the previous five games, but three overtime wins mean the Penguins have amassed eight points in the season series but yielded five to Washington (9-5-4).
Despite four wins (4-1-0), the Penguins have gained just three points over Washington, which is 1-1-3 against the Penguins. Such is the NHL’s loser point system.
Washington coach Peter Laviolette again put his lines in the blender. Conor Sheary will draw top-line duty with new first-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov and future Hall-of-Famer Alex Ovechkin. RW thumper Tom Wilson slipped to the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller returned to his normal third-line center position.
It’s Washington’s fourth set of line combinations in the last four games against the Penguins.
The Penguins’ speed advantage was clear on Tuesday during the Penguins 3-2 OT win. The Penguins penalty kill stifled the Washington PP.
Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen was benched in the third period on Saturday. He scored the game-winner on a two-on-one with Teddy Blueger on Tuesday. For Kapanen, it was a message received.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed winger Jason Zucker is out “longer-term” with a lower-body injury. Zucker suffered a scary crash into the boards on Tuesday and was helped off the ice.
Sullivan will start goalie Tristan Jarry for the sixth straight game. Jarry has won four of the last five, and his stats continue to improve after a rough opening week.
Washington will again counter with Vitek Vanecek, who has faced the Penguins in each of the previous five meetings this season.
The Penguins morning skate was optional, so the lines are presumptive. Also, the Penguins claimed RHD Mark Friedman off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. Friedman must remain with the Penguins NHL roster or pass through waivers again.
Friedman is unlikely to draw into the Penguins lineup as the team’s top three RHD, Kris Letang, John Marino, and Cody Ceci, are healthy.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Freddy Gaudreau|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Brandon Tanev|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mike Matheson||Cody Ceci|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Daniel Sprong||Evgeny Kuznetsov||Tom Wilson|
|Anthony Mantha||Nicklas Backstrom||T.J. Oshie|
|Conor Sheary||Lars Eller||Michael Raffl|
|Carl Hagelin||Nic Dowd||Garnet Hathaway|
|Dmitry Orlov||John Carlson|
|Brenden Dillon||Justin Schultz|
|Zdeno Chara||Nick Jensen|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||23.7%, 4th NHL||77.4%, 27th NHL|
|New York Islanders||18.8%, 21st NHL||83.7%, 6th NHL|
What to Watch
The special teams battle will again be paramount. The Penguins scored on one of their two power-play chances but stuffed the Washington power play. In a one-goal game, the importance cannot be understated.
Washington coach Peter Laviolette will adjust to the Penguins’ suddenly aggressive PK, and how assistant coach Mike Vellucci responds will affect the game. Washington has one of the best PP units in the league. It was converting at 33.3% until Tuesday night.
The Penguins were also hit hard on Tuesday. After two periods, Washington lit up the Penguins for a 26-5 hit advantage.
The Penguins game was possession. They got even by controlling the puck for most of the first 40 minutes. It’s a trade-off, but the most important stat is neither the hits nor the shots.
Despite the Penguins’ significant shot advantage, the high-danger scoring chances were about even. That’s a running theme with Washington, which set back the advanced stats argument en route to the 2018 Stanley Cup.
Watch the high-danger chances. The team that converts wins.
The teams’ goaltending battles have been even, with a slight Penguins advantage, but the defensive production has greatly favored…the Penguins. Despite Norris Trophy favorite John Carlson, Justin Schultz, and Dmitry Orlov on the blue line, the Penguins defensemen have produced more.
Watch Mike Matheson jump into the play to help the bottom-six create offense. That’s a huge improvement over recent years.
Penguins Game Notes
*On Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Conor Sheary scored his fifth goal of the season. That marked Sheary’s sixth goal in his eighth career game against his former team, his highest goals per game rate (0.75) against an opposing team.
*With five goals in 15 games, Sheary is tied with Jakub Vrana and John Carlson for fourth on the team. Sheary is currently on a 27-goal pace over an 82-game season.
*The Penguins’ eight wins when tied (5) or trailing (3) after the second period are tied with the Nashville Predators for most in the NHL.
*The Penguins’ 126 penalty minutes this season are tied for the fifth-fewest in the NHL.
*Teddy Blueger is currently riding a career-long four-game point streak (1g, 3a).
The Penguins Taxi Squad:
F – Jordy Bellerive F – Josh Currie
D – Yannick Weber G – Emil Larmi
F Sam Miletic (16 consecutive, 16 total)
D Juuso Riikola (12 consecutive, 12 total)
F Evan Rodrigues (10 consecutive, 10 total)
D Brian Dumoulin (9 consecutive, 9 total)
F Jared McCann (5 consecutive, 5 total)
2020-21 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 101
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+
Radio: 105.9 The X