Penguins at Capitals Preview: One Step Up, Two Steps Back
Kris Letang made a triumphant return but the Pens suffered a major roster loss ahead of a clash with the Caps.
It seems like every time the Penguins hit the ice lately a new complication arises. In Tuesday's game against Florida, the latest stumbling block for the black and gold was the loss of starting goalie Tristan Jarry to injury. Yes, just two games after returning from his prior injury Jarry showed up to the rink with an unrelated upper-body issue and was pulled from the lineup at the last second. The ailment must be significant because the netminder will be sidelined until after the All-Star break. That means the soonest we could potentially see him again would be Tuesday, February 7th against Colorado. Once again backup Casey DeSmith will be forced to do his best number-one goalie impression. The Pens also recalled their third-stringer Dustin Tokarski from the AHL to reinforce DeSmith. Casey has struggled of late so the Penguins are taking a double hit in net: losing Jarry and having to rely on a tender who only has three wins in his last 10 starts.
The game against the Panthers did bring some good developments though. Kris Letang returned to the lineup for the first time in 2023 and had a historic night. He not only scored the game-winning overtime goal for the Birds but wrote himself into the record books with his incredible four-point performance:
Now the Penguins have to immediately shift back into playoff positioning mode. They're in Washington to faceoff with their old, epic rival the Capitals as the two teams sit neck-and-neck in league points. The Pens and Caps are 14th and 13th in the standings respectively while they battle for one of two Eastern Conference wildcard playoff spots.
As has been the case in the 15-plus years of the Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin era, these teams are very similar in on-ice play and narratives this season. Washington has struggled with loads of injuries to key players this year. They also went on a phenomenal 11-1-1 run in December but cooled down as soon as the New Year turned, similar to the Pens' seven-game win streak in the same time period and subsequent January woes.
Performance wise the two clubs are in step together too. Their 5v5 goals are almost identical as seen in the first JFresh Hockey analytics graphic below. The Capitals have a slight edge in defensive play both at even strength and on the penalty kill. But the Penguins hold an advantage on the power play which looks reinvigorated since the injection of a healthy Kris Letang and Jeff Petry back into the lineup. Pittsburgh has five power-play goals in their last four games. Special teams might be the one area the Penguins can CAPitalize on to give them the advantage over a team they're on par with in almost every other way.
To the rest of tonight's details...
Pens Game #48: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals
Date: January 26, 2023
Time: 7 PM (ET)
Place: Washington, D.C.
Venue: Capital One Arena
Broadcasts: Local- ATTSN, National- ESPN+
Social Media Hashtags #: #LetsGoPens #AllCaps
Records- PIT: 24-15-8, WSH: 25-19-6
Last 10- PIT: 5-3-2, WSH: 4-6-0
Streaks- PIT: 1 Win, WSH: 2 Losses
Standings- PIT: 14th, WSH: 13th
Points- PIT: 56, WSH: 56
Season Series- 1-0 PIT
Series Goals For- PIT: 4, WSH: 1
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: 7-9-3, 3.34 GAA, .900 SV%
Career vs. WSH: 3-1-0, 2.45 GAA, .896 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 Season.
Record: 14-13-4, 2.57 GAA, .916 SV%
Career vs. PIT: 2-3-1, 3.15 GAA, .905 SV%
Teddy Blueger left practice abruptly on Wednesday in an unusual move. Although it was termed a maintenance day, his mid-practice departure means there's a possibility he's dealing with a nagging injury. This may explain the recent Pens' penalty kill troubles. They've given up a power-play goal in three out of the last four games. Blueger took the gameday skate on Thursday though and appears set to play despite his sudden exit the day before.
Some status news on the injured Pens: Josh Archibald (lower body) practiced Wednesday in a regular jersey. Theoretically, he could perfectly fit in for Blueger's defensive forward duties if #53 can't play and Archibald is ready to return. Kasperi Kapanen (lower body) practiced Wednesday but in a non-contact jersey. He still has a way to go in his rehab. Neither Tristan Jarry (upper body) nor Jan Rutta (upper body) traveled to D.C. with the team.
-Josh Archibald (F): LTIR, lower body, day-to-day.
-Tristan Jarry (G): upper body, out until after 2/5.
-Kasperi Kapanen (F): IR, lower body, day-to-day.
-Jan Rutta (D): upper body, day-to-day.
The projected Penguins lines for Thursday, January 26, 2023, at the Washington Capitals:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Brock McGinn - Teddy Blueger - Jeff Carter
Drew O'Connor - Ryan Poehling - Danton Heinen
Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson - Jeff Petry
P. O. Joseph - Chad Ruhwedel
PP1: Malkin, Crosby, Guentzel, Rakell, Letang
PP2: Carter, Rust, Zucker, Heinen, Petry
PK1: Carter/Poehling, Rust, Dumoulin, Petry
PK2: Blueger, McGinn, Ruhwedel, Pettersson
Two important Caps players are in question for this game and neither are players the Penguins will be particularly sad to miss. Sniper T.J. Oshie has been away from the team on parental leave and it's unclear whether he'll play on Thursday. And Pittsburgh fan favorite Tom Wilson left Washington's last game due to injury. He has been ruled a game-time decision due to a lower-body injury.
-Nicklas Backstrom (F): illness, day-to-day.
-Connor Brown (F): IR, lower body, undisclosed.
-John Carlson (D): IR, face, undisclosed.
-Nic Dowd (F): lower body, day-to-day.
-Carl Hagelin (F): hip, out indefinitely.
-Tom Wilson (F): lower body, game-time decision.
For The Penguins: Kris Letang. Why bet against a man making history right now? And how do you pick anybody other than the person who just produced four points in one game in four different ways? Letang is the obvious Penguin to watch. It also helps that the opponent in question for this game is Washington. Kris Letang has performed memorably against the Pens' arch-rivals in his 16-year career. In 34 regular season games, he has 29 points vs. the Capitals: five goals and 24 assists. In the playoffs, he's been even better than that. He becomes a clutch goal scorer vs. the Caps in the post-season, matching his five-goal mark in just 18 games over three series. He also has eight assists for 13 points in all. Kris has a true niche for the Capitals.
For The Capitals: Dylan Strome. "Stromer" is on a four-game point streak for Washington. He's put up three goals and two assists recently plus had himself a two-goal night against his former Coyotes team three games ago. He already has 25 assists with the Capitals in 2022-23, one away from his total assists in a full season in Chicago last year.