The Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins renew their rivalry Wednesday night in Washington (8 p.m., NBCSN), but unlike their first two meetings this season, No. 43 will be in the lineup for the Caps.
Here are four things to watch in Wednesday’s game.
1. Tom Wilson vs. Pittsburgh
Wilson can be a polarizing player across the NHL, but there’s no team that he seems to bother more than the Penguins. Wednesday’s game will be the third meeting between Washington and Pittsburgh this season, but it will be the first for Wilson who was still serving a suspension during the first two meetings.
In fact, Wednesday’s game will be Wilson’s first game against the Penguins since Game 3 of their second round series last season when Wilson delivered a devastating hit to Pittsburgh forward Zach Aston-Reese.
I doubt the Penguins have forgotten about that.
The Caps are a more dynamic team with Wilson on the ice. How will Pittsburgh approach playing against a player who clearly gets under their skin? Will they play him physically and look for retribution for a hit that occurred back in May? All of that seems to play right into Wilson’s wheelhouse for the way he likes to play the game.
“They're in need of points so I wouldn't be surprised if they're playing hockey tonight, but if there's extra curriculars, we'll handle it,” Wilson said after Wednesday’s morning skate.
“It's a rivalry,” he added. “That's what makes hockey great. No one wants to see hockey, two teams out there just liking each other. You want to see battles, you want to see hard-nosed hockey, that's what it is every time we play Pittsburgh. I don't expect anything else.”
(For more on Wilson the player and the person, be sure to check out our mini documentary “Tom Wilson: Marked Man” that dropped Wednesday exclusively on the MyTeams app!)
2. Everyone’s going streaking
There are a lot of streaks on the line for Washington. Most notably is Alex Ovechkin’s 14-game point streak. That represents a career-best for the Great 8 and sits just three games shy of Mike Gartner’s franchise record of 17 games. He also has a goal streak of six-games, one shy of his career-high of seven that he set all the way back in 2006, his rookie season. During this current stretch, Ovechkin has 17 goals and 23 total points.
While Ovechkin is stealing all the headlines, Evgeny Kuznetsov has put together an impressive streak of his own. His assist streak has now stretched to eight games and is one shy of the franchise record of nine set by Bengt Gustafsson and Dave Christian.
As a team, the Caps are in the midst of a five-game winning streak and have scored at least three goals in 14 straight games.
3. You’re (penalty) killing me
Washington’s penalty kill numbers for the season are…not great. The team currently ranks 27th in the NHL at 75.2-percent. To make matters worse, things are actually trending in the wrong direction as the Caps have given up five power play goals in their last two games for a PK rate of 44.4-percent. Those totals could be even worse given that Buffalo scored a goal just as another penalty expired in Saturday’s game.
But wait, there’s more.
Pittsburgh’s power play is ranked ninth in the league at 22.8-percent. They have struggled of late at 12.5-percent in their last six games, but they could be getting a major boost with the possible return of forward Patric Hornqvist to the lineup.
Hornqvist missed the past six-games with an upper-body injury is a major part of the Penguins’ power play. He is known for agitating goalies with his net-front presence. Pittsburgh reassigned forward Jean-Sebastian Dea to the AHL on Tuesday opening up the possibility that Hornqvist could be ready to return. Or it could just be the
Penguins setting up his return sometime during the NHL’s holiday roster freeze which goes into effect at midnight Wednesday night, Thursday morning.
4. Will the real Matt Murray please stand up?
It’s been a tough season thus far for Matt Murray. Injuries have limited the Penguins netminder to just 12 games this season and he has not looked great in those 12 games, posting a 3.95 GAA and .883 save percentage. The good news for Pittsburgh is he looked great in his one start Saturday since returning from injury. Casey DeSmith started Monday’s game so it is likely Murray will get the start Wednesday in Washington.
With the Caps’ offense clicking, the Penguins can’t afford Murray to be off his game or things could get ugly fast.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Willy's Got Game: Caps see more in Tom Wilson than physical play
- Where's Andre?: Competition making it hard for Burakovsky to get back in lineup
- NHL Power Rankings: Can we appreciate a regular season after Cup triumph?