Is the Pens vs. Caps rivalry entering a new era: the struggle years?
Sid and Ovi, Geno and Backstrom, the Pens and Caps: they're the two most connected teams in this recent era. They have four Stanley Cups between them and have been battling each other for nearly two decades as the NHL’s premiere post-lockout rivalry. Once again they're linked together but this time it's a dubious commonality: they're struggling to maintain relevance in the current game.
It's a great fall after the dizziest of heights for both organizations. Neither team has a winning record right now with Pittsburgh at 4-6-2 and Washington at 6-6-2. It's a shocking situation for two of the long-time elite franchises, each featuring one of the two greatest players of their generation.
Much like the last 17 years the Pens and Caps still have so much in common and are also matching each other closely in the forces that are combining to cause their problems on ice: older cores, injury issues, and very shaky goaltending. It just wouldn't be this rivalry if these teams didn't mirror each other all the way to whatever their inevitable destination is.
New Hope On The Horizon
Help may be coming for the Pens soon, however. They've finally significantly shaken up their lines and seem set to field a whole new look on the roster tonight. The bottom six forwards are getting a makeover and all three defensive pairs are newly formed. That includes promoting the Penguins' best defenseman of the year Marcus Pettersson to the top line to play alongside Kris Letang in place of the floundering Brian Dumoulin. As the defense's expected goals for vs. expected goals against chart by Jack Fraser of JFresh Hockey shows this is a much-needed change:
Dumoulin was shifted all the way down to the third pairing with Jan Rutta. The lowered minutes will hopefully insulate his rapidly disappearing defensive abilities and shelter his mobility issues. P.O. Joseph was also promoted to the second D-pairing after showing a lot of promise early this year. He'll be partnered with Jeff Petry. The Pens are likely trying to get some consistency out of "POJ" in forming that duo, while also maximizing Petry's offensive output with a player who is focused on that aspect of the game.
Jeff Carter is officially a game-time decision according to the team but was slotted into the third line center position at practice and appears a strong likelihood to play. Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen will be on his wings. Filip Hallander was just recalled from the minor leagues to play on the fourth line left wing along with Ryan Poehling and Josh Archibald. And the constantly struggling Kasperi Kapanen finally looks set to be a healthy scratch. That's just the benching that Pens fans have been waiting for. Samuel Poulin will also take a seat tonight.
The new look Pittsburgh Penguins take to the ice at 7:30 PM (ET) on national TV on TNT. It's the perfect stage for a big comeback game.
Pens Game #13: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Washington Capitals
Date: November 9, 2022
Time: 7:30 PM (ET)
Place: Washington, DC
Venue: Capital One Arena
Records- PIT: 4-6-2, WSH: 6-6-2
Last 10- PIT: 2-6-2, WSH: 4-4-2
Streaks- PIT: 7 Losses, WSH: 1 Win
Standings- PIT: 27th, WSH: 18th
Points- PIT: 10, WSH: 14
‘21/22 Season Series- 3-1 WSH
‘21/22 Series Goals For- PIT: 11, WSH: 18
Team Analytics Comparison:
Projected starting goalies-
-Casey DeSmith- #1
Bio Info: 6' 0", 181 lbs. DOB: 8/13/1991 (31). From: Rochester, NH.
Drafted: Undrafted; Experience: 5th Season.
Record: 0-3-1, 3.25 GAA, .904 SV%
Career vs. WSH: 2-1-0, 2.92 GAA, .873 SV%
-Darcy Kuemper- #35
Bio Info: 6' 5", 209 lbs. DOB: 5/5/1990 (32). From: Saskatoon, SK.
Drafted: 2006- Rd 6, Pk 160 (MIN). Experience: 11th.
Record: 4-5-1, 2.42 GAA, .919 SV%
Career vs. PIT: 2-2-1, 3.17 GAA, .908 SV%
The Pens are still in a 17-year record-low losing slump. They have won just two of their last 10 games and lost the last seven straight. Saying a win is desperately needed tonight or really anytime is a gigantic understatement. Washington is missing eight stars or roster regulars too. So the Penguins have to strike tonight while they have that advantage to grab that elusive "W".
Pittsburgh isn't winning but they are shooting. (That's something at least?) They're fifth in the NHL in shots per game at almost 36 (35.9). This is a particular edge against Washington who is among the stingiest teams at putting pucks on net at 29th or roughly 28.7 per game.
In somewhat surprising news Tristan Jarry is not starting tonight. There is no word from the team on why and if it involves Jarry being ill or injured. Back-up Casey DeSmith, who has yet to win a game this year, will take on the Caps instead.
-Teddy Blueger (F): upper body, day-to-day, will not play.
-Jeff Carter (F): lower body, day-to-day, game-time decision.
The projected Penguins lines for Wednesday, November 9, 2022, at the Washington Capitals:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Filip Hallander - Ryan Poehling - Josh Archibald
Marcus Pettersson - Kris Letang
Pierre-Olivier Joseph - Jeff Petry
Brian Dumoulin - Jan Rutta
TBD, No changes in practice but new lines will affect several units.
The Caps' biggest issue besides struggling to break .500 is an epic injury plague on a scale they haven't seen in many years. Some of their biggest stars are sidelined with long-term injuries including key centerman Nicklas Backstrom, clutch goal-scorer T.J. Oshie, their top two D-men John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, and perhaps most consequentially, the terminally reckless forward Tom Wilson. This tilts the talent differential in the Penguins' favor heavily. (And makes everyone a lot safer without Wilson on ice.)
Washington’s special teams are one of their strongest points. It could be the factor that turns the tide of the game tonight since this is such a tremendous weak spot for the Pens. The Capitals have the sixth-best powerplay in the league and the tenth-best penalty kill. They're well-balanced on both sides of penalty calls.
D.C. has struggled on the net and in the net this year though. Their new Stanley Cup-winning goalie Darcy Kuemper has played terribly since coming over from Colorado and still lacks a winning record at 4-5-1. The Caps are also suffering from a lack of shot generation. They're 29th in the NHL in shots per game played. That's a stunningly low amount for a traditionally offensive-oriented team.
Key players added: Forwards- Connor Brown, Dylan Strome, Henrik Borgstrom. Defensemen- Erik Gustafsson. Goalies- Darcy Kuemper, Charlie Lindgren.
Key players lost: Defensemen- Justin Schultz. Goalies- Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek.
-John Carlson (D): IR, lower body, game-time decision.
-Dmitry Orlov (D): lower body, game-time decision.
-T.J. Oshie (F): IR, lower body,
-Carl Hagelin (F): LTIR, eye, out indefinitely.
-Nicklas Backstrom (F): LTIR, hip surgery, out indefinitely.
-Beck Malenstyn (F): IR, finger surgery, six to eight weeks.
-Connor Brown (F): LTIR, knee, out indefinitely.
-Tom Wilson (F): IR, knee, out indefinitely.
For The Penguins: Jake Guentzel. Jake is quietly having one of the best performances of the early season in the entire NHL. Yet no one is talking about it nationally! That is a crime so I'll talk about it a bit. When Guentzel's in the lineup this year he's almost assured to produce. He has points in five straight games played and goals in four of his last five games. He's only failed to score once since the season started, back against Montreal in October. Since then he has had points in every game for nearly an entire month. Everything's coming up Guentzel in 2022-23.
For The Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin. A very creative pick right?! Ovi has goals in the past three straight games plus goals in six of the last eight overall and is on a six-game point streak. He's money right now. The betting minded should place some cash on his scoring for an easy win.