[Photo Credit: thisisgettingold.net]
A night after the Pittsburgh Penguins (33-12-2) and Washington Capitals (22-16-8) were featured on NHL Rivals on NBC Sports, they will take to the ice in Pittsburgh at Consol Energy Center at 8 p.m. EST.
Many people see this game as Sidney Crosby against Alex Ovechkin, and why shouldn't they? Crosby currently leads the league with 67 points – 11 more than anyone else – while Ovechkin leads the league with 33 goals – 8 more than anyone else. Either player has the ability to take over the game, but the team that gathers the two points in this contest will have to be solid in both ends of the ice.
The Penguins have dealt with injuries all season, but another key note to this game will be whether or not James Neal will play. He will be a game time decision tonight, and while the current standings might show this game doesn't have much riding on it, when these two teams play it is always a playoff atmosphere on the ice and in the crowd.
With Pascal Dupuis out for the season, and now Brian Gibbons being placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury, it will be interesting to see who head coach Dan Bylsma places alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the top forward line.
The Penguins official Twitter handle reported that Brandon Sutter was taking shifts alongside the two Canadian Olympians, which would mean that he would be bumped from his normal center position onto the wing, a transition that is never easy to make.
The Penguins recalled Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well this morning, so the bottom two lines could consist of many different combinations, especially if Neal is left out of the line up.
The key to this game for the Penguins will be maintaining a physical presence every shift, but without taking any penalties and staying out of the box. The Capitals have the second best power play in the NHL, and with Steven Stamkos still injured, Ovechkin is currently the biggest offensive threat on the man advantage in the league.
His goal Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks proved that he isn't afraid to shoot from any spot on the ice. Ovechkin drifted to the bottom of the circle along the boards and ripped a one timer short side just under the bar on Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. It was a shot that maybe only one or two other guys in the world could make consistently.
Even though the Penguins have killed just over 87-percent of their penalties this season, there is no way that the Capitals are a better team 5-on-5, even with all the injuries they've sustained.
If the Penguins can shut down Ovechkin and get a solid outing from Marc-Andre Fleury in between the pipes, there is no reason to believe that the Penguins will not come out on top.
The Penguins will be the first team to win 20 games at home this season with a victory over the Caps, and are currently 16 points ahead in the Metropolitan division.
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