Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar returned to the Penguins line-up on Sunday, putting to bed any rumbles of severe injury to either player. Malkin impressed in his first game back, collecting a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win over Atlanta on Sunday.
While tied with the Devils, the Penguins currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference since New Jersey owns the tie-breaker. New Jersey is on the road on Tuesday against the Thrashers while Pittsburgh welcomes Washington to Mellon Arena.
The Capitals have won all three match-ups this season against the Penguins and will look to win the most important one on Tuesday. Heading into the playoffs, both teams are looking to make a statement and exemplify why they are the best in the East.
Washington leads the league in points with 114 as they have steam rolled through the Eastern Conference boasting a 41-10-9 record. On the flip side questions have risen about the Capitals ability to play defensive hockey and their consistency between the pipes.
Meanwhile for the defending Stanley Cup champions, queries about the overall playoff drive and secondary scoring have plagued Pittsburgh who is trying to play in June for the third straight year.
When Pittsburgh and Washington play each other, there is a different feeling in the crowd and around the league. Viewers know they could be the witness to greatness and time and time again, these teams live up to the hype.
Two games have required extra time while one was a 6-3 rout in February. The Penguins have done a good job containing the high octane offence of Washington but have been the victims of short defensive lapses where they allow multiple goals.
However, the Penguins may be able to make use of the Capitals’ heavy legs as they are coming off an overtime win against Boston on Monday.
One the injury front, Chris Kunitz could miss Tuesday’s game with an undisclosed injury. Pittsburgh’s coach Dan Bylsma has not had his 12 healthy forwards in over 10 games and is interested in establishing his line combinations.
During that stretch, Jordan Staal and Bill Guerin emerged as a pair, meaning there is a vacant position on Sidney Crosby’s line. Bylsma has tried out a few players including with Crosby including Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis so it will be interesting to see what he goes with.
A win against Washington could be the necessary boost Pittsburgh needs heading into the playoffs and it will be up to the big guns in Malkin and Crosby to lead them to victory.
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Written by Amit Mann