Jan 15, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Washington Capitals will head to the Consol Energy Center to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.
The Penguins have been hit hard by the injury bug this season, but you wouldn’t know it based on their record. They have a 16-point cushion over the Capitals in the battle for the Metropolitan Division title going into tonight’s meeting.
Sidney Crosby deserves a lot of the credit for that. He’s one of just six Penguins players to participate in all 47 of the team’s games and it’s rare for him to be held off the scoresheet. Just like Pittsburgh has been dominating the Metropolitan, Crosby has a comfortable lead in the battle for the Art Ross Trophy with 67 points this season.
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He’s not the only one that’s been a force to be reckoned with though. Just as Crosby has dominated the points race, no one is close to Washington’s Alex Ovechkin when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the net. He has 33 markers in 44 contests while three other players, including Crosby, are tied for second with 25 goals.
So once again Washington versus Pittsburgh will be defined by Ovechkin and Crosby, but while that’s certainly been talked about before, that rivalry did go through something of a hiatus due to Crosby’s injury problems and Ovechkin’s struggles a couple years back.
Even last season really didn’t feature a long period where they were both at the top of their game given that Ovechkin didn’t catch fire until the second half of the shortened campaign and Crosby’s regular season was cut short due to a broken jaw. In fact, this might prove to be the first season since 2009-10 where they both manage to stay largely healthy and neither of them goes through any season-defining rough patches.
While they’re the headlines of this contest, they both have impressive supporting casts. Both teams also have big X-Factors, such as James Neal‘s (upper body) availability and the Capitals’ goaltending situation. Washington has employed three different goaltenders in its last three games and they all had solid performances. Even still, it’s made for an awkward and uncertain scenario.
On a broader level, the Penguins would seem to have the edge. Even with all their injuries, they have a lot of offensive depth and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been excellent in the regular season. Pittsburgh is also an unreal 19-3-0 at home and earned a crushing 4-0 over Washington earlier this season.
At the same time, Washington has to be hungry for a win. This game should mean more to the Capitals in the heated battle for second place in the division and they have to be frustrated after enduring back-to-back shootout losses. Perhaps that will inspire them tonight.
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