The Pittsburgh Penguins needed all seven goals to dispatch the Florida Panthers in their back-and-forth 7-6 overtime win on Tuesday. Casey DeSmith was called into action on short notice after expected starter Tristan Jarry was discovered to have some sort of upper-body injury. It looked like trouble early on, with the Panthers notching two goals in less than 90 seconds before the first period was even halfway over, but as we’ve seen a lot lately those early leads can disappear in a hurry. The Penguins responded with three straight goals, and then the two teams would spend the rest of the game trading goals back and forth until finally, dramatically, in his first game back since injury and the death of his father, Kris Letang scored his second goal of the game, the game-winner on the power-play in overtime. Pittsburgh thus escaped with two points which are especially important in the context of tonight’s game.
The Washington Capitals host the Penguins tonight for the second of three meetings between the two teams this season; the first was a 4-1 win for Pittsburgh on November 9 which broke the Penguins’ season-worst seven-game slide and kicked off a string of fifteen wins in twenty games for Pittsburgh. Since then the two teams have equalled each other in wins and almost in points (44 for the Penguins, 42 for Washington) and now the teams are tied for fourth in Metropolitan Division, three points behind the New York Rangers for third and ten behind New Jersey and Carolina which are both tied for first. Much as it has for almost the last two decades, the Capitals’ offense revolves around Alex Ovechkin, whose 31 goals ties him with Vancouver’s Bo Horvat for sixth-most in the League. The next-highest goal scorers for Washington, with 12 goals each, are Marcus Johansson and Conor Sheary(!).
After suffering through some health troubles, the Capitals have been getting some key guys back lately, namely T.J. Oshie (who has been a shadow of his former self) and Nicklas Backstrom, but they are still without defenseman John Carlson and forwards Nic Dowd and Connor Brown. I’m looking at the team’s stats and only one player on the roster is anywhere near a point-per-game (Ovechkin), which is indicative perhaps of bigger problems for the team in the near-term. Right now it seems like the team is simply underperforming, but Washington has seen its number of consistently-productive players dwindle (see: Oshie but also the oft-injured and somehow 35-years-old Backstrom) and their replacements are not able to replace the production those players are lacking. So it stands to question just how serious a playoff run the Capitals could make, as they are lacking in players who can consistently show up when needed. (Not that the Penguins have reliable players in that regard at this point, but I’d say Pittsburgh is in a better position.)
OWN THE STEPS