Is the Rivalry Between the Penguins and Capitals Heating Up Again?

In the years after Gretzky and Lemieux retired, the NHL was searching for new superstars to carry the mantle. In 2005, it found two young players with unbelievable skill and charisma, and they have been both the face of the league, and its premiere rivalry. Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are arguably the best two players in the NHL, and have been for years now, often trading places at the top of the scoring ladder and battling for the Art Ross Trophy. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have been linked by their two star players, and an intense rivalry has sprouted between their fanbases.

Things haven’t been as hot between the Pens and Caps since the 2009 playoffs, in which the Penguins would defeat DC in 7 games and eventually win the Stanley Cup. Crosby and Ovechkin would ramp up the intensity in game 2, scoring matching hat-tricks in a show of unreal offensive prowess. However, in 2011, both teams slowed down a bit, and so did their stars. Crosby was injured in the 2011 Winter Classic, and the Penguins would suffer subsequent humiliating exits from the postseason, in large part due to goaltending meltdowns. No stranger to early playoff losses, the Capitals would struggle in 2012, going through two coaches and watching Alex Ovechkin fade from his usual form, becoming predictable and derided by pundits as having “lost his form.”

The 2013-2014 season didn’t start great for the Capitals, but captain Ovechkin has been on a wild scoring streak, battling with Alex Steen of St. Louis for the lead in goals, and trailing just behind Crosby in points. The Capitals are surging, and sit one mere point behind a Penguins team that are the mirror opposite, having started strong but have hit a rough patch, only scoring 3 times in 3 losses before righting the ship against Nashville. Both teams come in to this game with a lot to prove, and the chance to establish dominance. The Penguins won all three games against the Capitals in a season sweep, and in their first meeting this season, Washington looks to even the score.

The much maligned goaltending of Marc-Andre Fluery seems to have turned around, as he has been a solid backstop for a Penguins team that has been mediocre on defense. The Flower has been a brick wall in the crease, and hasn’t been giving up the laughably bad goals like he did in the Islanders series in the 2013 playoffs. Braden Holtby, the Capitals’ goaltender, has also been strong in front of sub-par defense, posting pretty good numbers and allowing the Caps to win games. With both goaltenders performing well, it’ll be up to the stellar offense of both teams to make this game exciting.

Penguins star Evgeni Malkin has been having a lackluster season, with an anemic 3 goals. His 17 assists have been nice, but Malkin is known more as a goal scorer. The Penguins have been getting good numbers from their call-ups from Wilkes-Barre too, and the depth of their 3rd and 4th lines has made up the slack. Washington’s power play is the most dangerous in the league, and they are a team that is good at getting under Pittsburgh’s skin. Penalties have cost the Pens in the past, and emotional players like Malkin are easy targets.

Tonight’s tilt is a match worthy of NBC’s “Rivalry Night,” and is one you won’t want to miss. Put the kids to bed early, skip the meeting with your project financing lenders, turn off your cell phone, and get ready for a great game.  Anything goes when these two franchises meet up, and Wednesday won’t be any different. So many story lines have potential to be the driving force behind this game and, while early in the season, the lead in the Metropolitan Division is on the line.

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