(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Has the Capitals-Penguins rivalry lost some of its intensity in recent years?

It’s a question that has popped up often enough in recent seasons as Washington has struggled to find its identity under three different coaches, and as the head-to-head comparisons between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby lost their appeal when the former’s offensive production dipped and the latter saw two years derailed by lingering concussion symptoms.

While the Capitals are looking forward to their matchup against the Penguins Wednesday, when the two teams will face off for first place in the Metropolitan Division, defenseman Karl Alzner says the rivalry doesn’t have the same luster anymore.

“I think that it was bigger a few years back,” Alzner said, attributing some of the change to the circumstances surrounding Ovechkin and Crosby. “We went through the time where Ovi wasn’t putting up as many points and goals and Crosby was injured for however long — the heat kind of died down. I think there’s still going to be something there, it’s still a head-to-head battle, but we haven’t really played them too much where the hate has been there. I guess we’ll see if it’s still there. It’s still fun, they’re awesome to play against, but when we played them last year and got blown out there was no hate in that game.”

The Capitals are 5-4-2 against Pittsburgh in the past three seasons and were swept last season, dropping all three matchups in the lockout-shortened campaign.

Wednesday night might provide a backdrop to ignite the rivalry once more, though. It marks the first meeting between the two teams as members of the same division in over 20 years. Ovechkin is tied for the league lead in goals  and Crosby is tied for the league lead in points.

“There’s still something there, absolutely,” Alzner said. “If we play them once in the playoffs, come down to the wire [fighting for first place] against them or have one game where there’s a few fights then absolutely, it can get back there. It’s right there. It’s been lit before, it just needs something to spark it.”

The Washington Post's Katie Carrera discusses the Capitals' hot start in a mediocre division and previews the game against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)