Despite a season of playing only divisional rivals, no teams in the East Division dislike each other quite as much as the Pittsburgh Penguins (32-15-3) and the Washington Capitals (32-14-4). A single point separates the teams at the top of the East Division, and the puck drops between them on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Capital One Center.
Both teams know a regular-season divisional crown isn’t the prize. The teams combined won all three Stanley Cups from 2016-2018, though it’s still unclear if beating the Penguins in 2018 meant more to Washington than the actual Cup.
The injuries will be a significant story. Washington captain Alex Ovechkin did not take part in the morning skate and will not play. Top Washington defenseman John Carlson didn’t skate, either, and is a game-time-decision.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin did participate in practice on Wednesday but did not take part in the line rushes, so he’s unlikely to play, as well.
UPDATE: Malkin is out. Frederick Gaudreau is in.
Head coach Mike Sullivan said all of the Penguins’ injured players are game-time decisions. However, as of publishing, none have been activated off of the IR.
A Pens-Caps battle without Ovechkin and Malkin? First, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s team lost in the KHL Final on Wednesday, now this?
Washington coach Peter Laviolette will start goalie Vitek Vanecek, who is 18-9-3 this season with a .910 save percentage and a 2.68 GAA.
PHN+ broke down the Penguins vs. Capitals battles this season and the role the Penguins’ speed has played in winning four of those six games.
PIttsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Frederick Gaudreau|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Colton Sceviour|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mark Friedman||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||(36 for 150) 24% 5th NHL||(119 for 154) 77.3% 25th NHL|
|Buffalo Sabres||(30 for 142) 21.1% 13th NHL||(106 for 137) 77.4% 24th NHL|
What to Watch
The PHN+ breakdown of the Penguins speed game and how they’ve used it against Washington is important now, but more so if the teams meet in the playoffs. The Penguins have been able to get behind the Washington defense and play on the rush.
When the Penguins do those two things, they’re lethal.
The way to slow down speed is to pound it. Ground it. And inflict a few bruises. The Washington Capitals will have to use their physicality to their advantage and use their skill. Jakub Vrana and a couple of top draft picks are in Detroit’s hands, and skilled winger Anthony Mantha is now a Capitals.
Mantha scored a goal in his first four games with Washington but has just one assist in his last three. The hot streak is over.
In addition to Washington’s physicality, their skill level with Mantha is high. We’ll see how the loss of the shifty Penguins killer Vrana and the addition of Mantha affects the matchup.
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Position, Player (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
Evgeni Malkin (21 consecutive, 21 total)
Brandon Tanev (11 consecutive, 17 total)
Frederick Gaudreau (7 consecutive, 7 total)
-Former Penguins prospect Daniel Sprong scored his 10th goal of the season on Tuesday. All 10 of Sprong’s goals have come at five-on-five, which ranks third on the Capitals.
-A Capitals goaltender has not allowed a goal at even strength since the second period against the Boston Bruins on April 18, a span of 207:15 minutes.
- The Capitals have scored 120 goals at five-on-five this season, which is the most in the NHL, through games played April 27.
-The Penguins have points in 16 of their last 20 games (14-4- 2).
-John Marino’s 27 takeaways this season are ninth-most in the NHL among defensemen.
-Against the fearsome Washington Capitals power play, the Penguins have successfully killed 17 of 20 chances (85.0%), including nine straight opportunities.
-With a win on Thursday and a New York Rangers loss, the Penguins would clinch a playoff spot for the 15th consecutive season.
How to Watch, 7 p.m.:
-TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+
Radio: 105.9 The X