The Capitals (40-20-7) head to Pittsburgh in desperate need of points as they take on the rival Penguins (39-21-6). Catch the game broadcast as well as all the pre and postgame coverage on NBC Sports Washington. Pregame coverage begins at 12 p.m. with Caps FaceOff Live followed by Caps Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. bringing you up to game broadcast at 1 p.m. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.
Here is what you need to know for Saturday's game.
When last we met
This will be the third of four meetings between the Caps and Penguins this season and the first in Pittsburgh. Washington won the last meeting 5-3 on Feb. 23 while the Penguins took the first game 4-3.
It has been a tough stretch for Washington, but the games against Pittsburgh stand out as two of the better games the Caps have played over the course of the last few weeks. Will the rivalry inspire better play from Washington on Saturday?
The struggle is real
The Caps are now 14-14-2 since Dec. 23, have lost three of their last four and nine of their last 13. Things are trending in the wrong direction right now and there is not much time left in the season to get right with only 15 games remaining on the schedule.
The Penguins, meanwhile, seem to be getting over their recent swoon. After losing six straight in regulation, Pittsburgh has won its last two. Those two games were against Ottawa and Buffalo, however, so take that with a grain of salt.
With no practice on Friday, there is no way to know what Todd Reirden is thinking for his lines in this game. Will we see players benched for taking too many critical penalties in Thursday's loss to the New York Rangers? He has shuffled his defensive pairs frequently of late and after giving up six goals including five to one player, it would not be shocking to see the defense change yet again.
Here are the lines from Thursday's game:
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Brenden Dillon - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Michal Kempny
Holtby likely to start
Just as with the lines, we do not know exactly what Reirden is thinking in net, but Braden Holtby almost certainly will get the start. With the team defense playing as poorly as it is, neither goalie has managed to put up good stats of late, but Holtby has been the more steady of the two netminders over the course of the last month.
Here are the stats for both netminders since Feb. 1.
Holtby: 11 games played, 10 games started, 5-4-1, .897 save percentage, 3.32 GAA
Samsonov: 6 games played, 5 games started, 0-4-1, .869 save percentage, 4.34 GAA
No practice time
The schedule makers did the Caps no favors this week with three division games in four days. The specifics of the schedule have not allowed the team much practice time. Teams generally do not have a morning skate on the morning of the second leg of a back-to-back or a practice the day afterward. With a back-to-back, Washington did not have a morning skate on Thursday prior to the Rangers game and did not practice on Friday. Since Saturday's game is an afternoon game, however, they won't even get a chance for a morning skate before playing the Penguins. That means the team has not had a chance to get on the ice outside of a game situation since Wednesday morning and even that was an optional skate. The Caps will not have an actual practice until Sunday in Buffalo.
Washington still sits in first place of the Metropolitan Division, but barely. The Caps and Philadelphia Flyers are tied in the standings with 87 points, but the Caps hold the tiebreaker. Philadelphia hosts the Sabres later on Saturday so the Caps could find themselves in second place by the end of the day if they do not get a result in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins are third in the division with 84 points. A regulation loss for Washington would not only leave the door open for the Flyers, but pull Pittsburgh to within one point of overtaking Washington for second.
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