It is no longer the two best teams in hockey scrapping for ego, pride, and supremacy atop the Metropolitan Division, but it should be an intense war nonetheless. The Pittsburgh Penguins (12-8-5) are hanging on to a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, and the Penguins lines are unsettled as Jason Zucker is a game-time decision. The Washington Capitals (16-4-6) are leading the Metro division.
The Capitals also embarrassed the Penguins 6-1 on Nov. 14.
The Penguins, per longstanding tradition, are dealing with another injury to a significant player. On Wednesday, head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Jake Guentzel is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ top line with Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, and Evan Rodrigues has accounted for most of the Penguins’ offense over the last seven games.
Jason Zucker may or may not be in the lineup Friday night. He missed the last two practices, which were termed maintenance days. He did take part in the Penguins morning skate.
On Monday, Jeff Carter and Guentzel had two goals as the Penguins skated past the Seattle Kraken 6-1. Casey DeSmith earned his first win of the season and the Penguins won their second consecutive game.
Tristan Jarry, who has been brilliant, will start Friday against the Capitals. It’s been a handful of years since a Penguins goalie carried a team. The last guy to do it was Marc-Andre Fleury in 2017. He just won his 500th game on Thursday night in Montreal.
This season, Jarry has been a primary story and one of the few consistently positive ones. His save percentage is .934, and his goals against average only 1.92, though both stats figure to take a hit on Friday night.
Alex Ovechkin is off to the best start of his 16-year-career. He scored his 750th career goal and is chasing Wayne Gretzky’s all-time mark of 892 goals. He seems intent on doing it yesterday. Ovechkin has 41 points, including 20 goals in just 26 games this season.
What to Watch:
In Capital One Arena, there is always a 10-minute burst of superhuman energy. The Capitals attack like rabid wolverines at some point in the game. The crowd goes wild. Red lights flash. And how opponents weather that storm is a predictor for the outcome.
However, the Capitals are also banged up. Top-sixers Nick Backstrom and Anthony Mantha are out of the lineup, though Backstrom is nearing a return.
The Capitals remain formidable, with Evgeny Kuznetsov on the top line between Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Kuznetsov has 28 points (8-20-28) in 26 games. His play is more reminiscent of the early Kuznetsov, poised to become one of the best in the game, instead of the distracted, immature player who appeared in the last couple of seasons.
Kuznetsov gives the Capitals a solid top-six, including freight train Wilson, scoring nearly a point-per-game this season (9-15-24) in 26 games.
The Penguins will need their middle six to score. Until Jeff Carter and Danton Heinen accounted for three goals on Monday night, the Penguins middle six was nearly bone dry.
And we’ll be watching Kasperi Kapanen on the Penguins top line, too. Kapanen has not played good hockey for any consistent stretch this season. The Penguins need more, now, from him without Guentzel in the lineup.
The Penguins game Friday will rely upon their structure and forecheck. Break down, and things will get messy. However, they have shown an ability to frustrate the Capitals with a heavy forecheck and superior speed. They will need all of that on Friday.
And watch for the Penguins’ top-ranked penalty-killing unit vs. the Capitals’ power play with Ovechkin in his LW circle office.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines:
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Rickard Rakell||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jason Zucker||Jeff Carter||Danton Heinen|
|Brock McGinn||Teddy Blueger||Evan Rodrigues|
|Mike Matheson||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Mark Friedman||Chad Ruhwedel|
Expected Capitals Lines, per PuckPedia.com:
Penguins Betting per Barstool Sportsbook.
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Penguins: +1.5 (-205)
Capitals: -1.5 (+163)
Moneyline: Penguins (+125)
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes:
*The game is NOT on cable or network television. The game will be exclusively broadcast on Hulu/ESPN+. Don’t shoot the messenger.
*The Penguins begin their third set of back-to-back games. This year, the Penguins are 1-3-0 in back-to-backs (1-1-0 on the first night; 0-2-0 on the second night).
*Evan Rodrigues is two points shy of the 20-point plateau for the third time in his career. It would mark the first time since 2018-19 (29 PTS in 74 GP) that Rodrigues has had 20-plus points in a season.
*Jake Guentzel’s 13-game points streak will end on Friday when the LW misses the game. Sidney Crosby has a six-game streak (3-8-11) intact.
*Kris Letang is one point shy of becoming the 43rd defenseman in NHL history to score 600 points. He’s also looking to become the seventh active defenseman, with Brent Burns (738), Zdeno Chara (668), Erik Karlsson (642), Duncan Keith (630), Ryan Suter (621), and Keith Yandle (607).