WASHINGTON — It doesn’t take much to get most Penguins players excited about a game against Washington or Philadelphia, likely their two biggest rivals.
Fact is, simply releasing the schedule is enough to do it.
Consequently, coach Dan Bylsma shouldn’t have much trouble getting his players to focus this week because the Penguins will play both.
Each time, on consecutive days.
The Penguins opened a home-and-home with the Capitals Monday night at the Verizon Center with a rematch tonight at Consol Energy Center.
They will visit Philadelphia Saturday and take on the Flyers at home Sunday.
“You did that in junior a little bit,” Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. “You don’t see that as much in the NHL, where you’re playing the same team two games in a row.
“There’s a rivalry with those teams and there’s a certain amount of intensity that comes with those games, so I think it can only add to it, the fact we’re playing back-to-back against both.”
Left winger Tanner Glass agreed.
“That’s the kind of thing that builds rivalries,” he said. “I’d imagine that kind of thing doesn’t happen on the schedule by accident. I think it’s fun.”
While the Penguins are jousting with Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Washington is part of a cluster of teams hoping simply to qualify for the postseason.
The challenge facing the Capitals can be daunting, but center Troy Brouwer said they have found a way to avoid getting distracted by the big-picture implications of every game. Since returning from the Olympic break, he said, Washington has broken its season into three-game segments, the most recent of which began with a 3-2 victory Saturday against Phoenix.
“If we can come out on top in most of those series, we’ll be in the playoffs at the end of it,” Brouwer said. “When you can look at smaller pictures, the bigger picture doesn’t look so tough.”
New injury decks Conner
Penguins winger Chris Conner will be out another 4-6 weeks because of a broken left foot.
He missed his 22nd game in a row Monday night because of a hand injury, but Bylsma had pronounced him almost ready to return after the game-day skate.
After the Penguins’ 3-2 victory against the Capitals, Bylsma announced Conner’s new injury, which resulted from blocking a shot in practice Sunday.
Conner has four goals and one assist in 19 games this season.
Pretty much an open book
Bylsma acknowledged the Penguins didn’t have much of a book on highly regarded Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who made his NHL debut Monday night.
He tried to get insight from one of Kuznetsov’s countrymen, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, and said that Malkin “did have a little information on him.”
But while the NHL tries to learn about Kuznetsov, he must try to adapt to a whole new way of life and a whole new style of hockey.
That’s why the Capitals are pleased that team captain Alex Ovechkin will have Kuznetsov live with him for the balance of this season.
“It can’t help but help the adjustment,” Washington general manager George McPhee said. “I think he’ll assimilate a lot quicker.”
Getting introduced to the NHL, he added, should make it easier for Kuznetsov, 21, to be productive in 2014-15.
“I’m not worried about next year with him,” McPhee said. “I think that will be really smooth. Right now, it’s a big adjustment.
“We’ve noticed over the years, with a lot of our players, young guys we’ve signed, if we can get them into [Washington’s minor league team in] Hershey or here sometimes, they’re almost 20 percent better when you see them again in September because it’s an eye-opener. The caliber of play and how guys train. It helps a lot.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.