Gameday 67: The Rivalry Continues

After taking the first two games in March against Atlantic Division foes the real meat of the Penguins March schedule starts today with a matinee against the Capitals. This will be the third meeting between the two Metro rivals, with the Penguins taking the first 4-3 and the Caps winning the second game three weeks later 5-3.

The Capitals didn’t enjoy the Penguin’s recent 6 game losing streak as much as they wanted to. In fact, the Caps were struggling through their own 5-8-2 February and are just 13-11-2 since January 1st. In their last ten games the Caps are 3-5-2. To put that record in perspective, the Penguins lost 6 straight games and their record in the last 10 is 4-6-0. As it stands today, the two teams are separated by three points with the Penguins having a game in hand. Thanks to the Flyers playing out of their minds, to the tune of a 115 PDO during their propulsion into the race, the division scene is turning into a story of two classes.

With a win today, the Penguins join the list of 40-win teams. There are currently 6 in the league, and the Penguins can become the 3rd from the Metro with a win today. The Flyers play Buffalo later tonight, so both the Flyers and Capitals will keep their one extra game played over the Pens at the conclusion of today’s action.

This is the first meeting between the two teams since the trade deadline. The Capitals added Brenden Dillon to their defense right around the same time the Penguins added Zucker. Dillon was on the lineup during the last meeting and played the role of dick in that game. At the deadline the Capitals decided their mediocre record in 2020 was good enough, so they only added Ilya Kovalchuk. Woo. Kovalchuk is currently being paid by four NHL teams, his accountant is likely an alcoholic after doing those taxes.

The Penguins iced a near NHL roster in their last game and as of this writing, they haven’t made any new injury announcements for the first time since 1983. In the previous two meetings, there were aspects of the Penguins game that showed weakness to the way the Capitals play. In the first meeting, an onslaught of physicality in the third period by the Caps created trouble for the Pens and required Murray to stand on his head for the win. In the second matchup, the Caps used a neutral zone attack to go straight through the Penguins defense and worked several goals from behind the net to the front. Brian Dumoulin didn’t dress in either of those games, however, and this Penguins roster will be the best to face the Capitals so far this season.

Now that the Penguins are healthy and I am excited to see how this team matches up against the Capitals. With an actual third line and the last change at home, it will be interesting to see which forward group Sullivan chooses to use against the Ovechkin line. This is the first time this season that Mike Sullivan can actually play the chess match. He could go strength against strength, Crosby line vs Ovechkin line with Letang and Dumo out, followed by the Malkin line vs the Backstrom line. This leaves the defensively-minded third and fourth lines to help the defensively poor third pairing of Johnson and Schultz. This will be the key matchup, as the Capitals third line has been able to create momentum in the previous two meetings, but for once they aren’t going up against a couple of AHLers who may never play 100 NHL games.

The Capitals have no injured players heading into this game, must be nice, and the Penguins are still without Simon and ZAR, but overall this is the healthiest both teams have been in a meeting this year. The Caps will likely turn to Holtby in net, who is 3-1-1 in his last 5 and 1-1-0 in March, dropping his most recent start to the Flyers. Ilya Samsonov, a huge reason the Caps are still in the race thanks to his stellar play earlier in the season, has since fallen off a cliff, going 0-4-1 in his last 5 with an OT loss to the Rangers Thursday in his only start in March.

It’s most likely going to be Murray in net as Sullivan is giving him the chance to earn the starter spot back. It’s an early game. It’s a rivalry. It’s March hockey baby and you better get your mind right. Put some booze in your coffee, get in your lucky seat, and let’s watch some hockey baby!