When the Capitals last saw their rivals back on Jan. 11, the Pittsburgh Penguins were in the midst of a six-game slide that saw them score just six goals. Since falling 1-0 in Washington thanks to a 30-save shutout by Tomas Vokoun, though, the Penguins have won five straight while outscoring their opponents 21-10.
Pittsburgh has defenseman Kris Letang back in the fold after he missed 21 games with a concussion and then there is all-star center Evgeni Malkin, who has helped lead the charge during the recent surge.
Heading into Sunday’s matinee with the Capitals, Malkin leads the NHL in scoring (55) and has eight goals – many of the eye-popping variety -- in the past five games. Of those tallies, six have come in the third period.
Alex Ovechkin knows his fellow countryman and roommate during the 2006 Olympics is on a roll.
“I think he play great right now,” Ovechkin said of Malkin. “Last year when he got hurt he miss hockey a lot. It’s good for him and he’s top player in the league, one of the top players in the league. When he is out there it’s dangerous. Every team have that kind of guy on the team but Malkin, right now, dominates.”
Having to monitor and try to minimize the damage Malkin can do is tough enough when the Capitals have the last change, on the road it will add another wrinkle. While Washington will try to make sure it gets advantageous matchups against Malkin, keep an eye out to see if the Penguins manage to shake those efforts as the contest goes on.
Karl Alzner said that the Capitals have to take a page out of their childhoods when trying to cover Malkin – shadow him but that his combination of speed, size, vision and play-making ability stack the deck.
“You’ve got to start by taking away his speed in the neutral zone,” Alzner said. “If you can’t do that you try to guard against his shot -- he likes to shoot the puck from pretty much anywhere and he goes to the net he doesn’t just shoot and peel off. You notice he gets those little ones in tight because he’s got that reach and he’s got that vision. You take away the speed and you just have to keep a guy on him – like the shadows that we all used to do in minor hockey.”
--Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma told reporters that Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal this afternoon. It will mark Fleury’s 21st consecutive appearance.
Meanwhile, Coach Dale Hunter wouldn’t divulge who he plans to give the nod to against Pittsburgh
Tomas Vokoun, who has started 11 of the previous 12 contests, has appeared in each of the three meetings between the rivals this season and stopped 102 of the 106 shots he’s faced in those contests for a .962 save percentage and 1.32 goals-against average.
Michal Neuvirth is 2-0-1 in his career against the Penguins with a .977 save percentage and 0.65 goals-against average.