The Capitals (51-14-5, 107 points) and Penguins (38-24-8, 84 points) renew their rivalry tonight at Consol Energy Center (6 p.m., NBCSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
Sticking with what works: With back-to-back wins since being constructed, look for the top line of right wing Jay Beagle, left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom to remain intact. Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he also likes the new look of T.J. Oshie on the second line with Evcgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, and a third line with Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams.
“Guys that are so reliant on a threesome of players playing together and never getting broken up, when something happens they can’t play,” Trotz reasoned. “You’re sort of flirting with disaster if you have that mindset.”
Trotz said he’s seeing better down-low play from Ovechkin and Backstrom now that Beagle is on their line.
“They’re getting chances in tight more than some of the perimeter stuff that was happening with that line. There’ a little more cycle game. (Beagle) pulls you into the fight a little bit.”
Goaltender matchup: The Capitals will turn to Braden Holtby, who is 43-8-4, with a 2.20 GAA and .923 save percentage. The Penguins will give Marc-Andre Fleury (30-16-6, 2.32, .922) his second start in as many days. Holtby has a career mark of 5-6-0 against the Penguins with a 2.42 GAA and .925 SP and two shutouts. Fleury is 18-11-2 with three shutouts, a 2.50 GAA and a .916 SP lifetime against the Caps.
Adding a wrinkle: Capitals coach Barry Trotz wasn’t specific, but he said he’s trying to add a few wrinkles to his team’s execution, from altering faceoff plays and defensive zone coverage to the Caps’ neutral zone setup and controlled forechecks.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Trotz said. “We’re just trying to look at areas we might use down the road. When we’re playing a team we might say, ‘We don’t have that in our toolbox and maybe we should put it on there.”
Oshie’s career high: If you’re a little surprised that T.J. Oshie hit his career high with his 22nd goal of the season Friday night, you’re not alone.
“I didn’t realize that was his mark,” Trotz said. “I was a little surprised when we first got him that he hadn’t reached that mark playing with (Alex) Steen and (David) Backes.
“You find out he’s more of a playmaker than a shooter. But I’ve been talking to him about shooting more. It’s no different than Marcus (Johansson) and he’s doubled his production. Sometimes when you’re playing with Ovi and Backy it’s hard not to want to get the puck over to Ovi. Even Osh will tell you the guy on the other side shoots it a little better than he does.”
Oshie has four points in his last four games (3 goals, 1 assist) and ranks second on the team in power-play goals (10) and goals (22), tied for third in power-play points (16) and fifth in points (44).
Geno who? The Pens have won four straight games since losing top-line center Evgeni Malkin to a left arm injury on March 11. Nick Bonino has replaced Malkin on a line with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel and that trio has produced four goals in the last two games.
Resurgent Sidney: Penguins center Sidney Crosby carries an 11-game point streak (6 goals, 12 assists) into tonight’s game. Crosby has 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 43 games under new coach Mike Sullivan, who took over for Michel Therrien on Dec. 12. Crosby had six goals and nine assists in 28 games under Therrien.
“I noticed they played with more energy under the new coach,” Caps defenseman and former Penguin Matt Niskanen said.
Crosby vs. Ovi: In 36 career regular season games against the Capitals, Crosby has 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) and is a plus-2 with 10 penalty minutes. In 42 career games against the Penguins, Alex Ovechkin has 46 points (27 goals, 19 assists) with a plus-16 rating and 30 penalty minutes.
Road trippin’: The Capitals are one road win away from tying the franchise mark for road victories in the season. That record currently belongs to the 2009-10 Capitals, who went 24-10-7 on the road. These Caps are 23-8-3 on the road this season, with seven road games remaining.
Metro men: The Caps have earned a point in 13 of their last 14 games against Metropolitan Division opponents (11-1-2) and are 18-4-2 record against Metro teams this season, outscoring them 82-57.
Beware the Capitals: The Caps have won five of the last seven games against the Pens, going 5-2-0 and outscoring Pittsburgh 21-11.
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