The Washington Capitals (37-17-5-79, first in Southeast) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (29-25-6-64, fourth in Atlantic) at 12:30 pm from Verizon Center.
Volumes have been written about the personal agendas, vendettas, rivalries and grudges involved between these two hockey teams. On one hand, you have the reigning MVP and a quiet but opinionated ingenue, on the other hand you have the reluctant saviour and the brilliant tactician.
But all that aside, we have a hockey game to play.
The Caps are coming off a miserable performance Friday night against Colorado, losing 4-1 and getting dominated in every facet of the game. Previous to that game, Washington had won three consecutive.
Pittsburgh has played well of late, coinciding with the firing of head coach Michel Therrien on February 15, winning back-to-back 5-4 games over Montreal and Philadelphia. They are 2-0-1 since hiring new coach Dan Bylsma.
Evgeni Malkin has goals in three straight games, and Sidney Crosby had a two-goal game against Philly Saturday night.
Malkin and Crosby, of course, lead the Penguins on a nightly basis. Malkin has 84 points (26 goals, 58 assists, plus-20) and leads the league in scoring. Crosby is not far behind (21-53-74, plus-2). The pair sandwich Alex Ovechkin, Washington's Superman, who sits with 75 points in his attempt to become the first player to win back-to-back Hart Trophies since Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 saves in the win over the Flyers and will likely start between the pipes. In 41 games this season, he's 20-15-4, with a 2.84 goals against and .910 save percentage.
Pittsburgh is currently 10th in the conference and really needs to pick up points wherever they can, and Verizon Center is a place they've had some success, winning their last five games to the "Phone Booth". The Caps returned the favor by winning a pair in Pittsburgh earlier this season.
The national television audience on NBC will get a healthy dose of Ovechkin-Malkin/Semin-Crosby drama. Drama sells tickets. But underneath all the drama, this game is filled with extremely talented hockey players trying to earn a critical two points as the season gets to crunch time.
WAS: PP-4th (23.6%, 57/242); PK-21st (79.6%, 58/284)
PIT: PP-25th (16.3%, 41/252; PK-19th (80.5%, 47/241)
WAS: RW Viktor Kozlov (Groin-IR); G Brent Johnson (Hip-IR); RW Chris Clark (Wrist-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-IR)
PIT: D Philippe Boucher (Foot-IR); C Mike Zigomanis (Shoulder-IR)