Unwelcome Guests: Capitals have Penguins number in Pittsburgh
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Might be time for the Penguins to consider PNC Park.
Or the Petersen Events Center.
Or Cupples Stadium.
Couldn't hurt, no matter which they'd choose.
- Matchup: Washington Capitals at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Tomas Vokoun for Capitals.
- Penguins: Trying to go five games without regulation loss at start of season for first time since going 11-0-1 in 1994-95. ... D Matt Niskanen will be appearing in his 300th NHL game. ... Have not had hat trick against Washington since Martin Straka on Jan. 8, 2001.
- Capitals: Will be playing first road game of season. ... C Nicklas Backstrom does not have goal in his past 10 regular-season games. ... RW Troy Brouwer was credited with 13 hits in first two games.
- Hidden stat: Penguins are 20-11-5 in past 36 games without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
After all, the Penguins haven't had much luck lately against Washington, which will visit Consol Energy Center at 7:08 p.m. today, in any of the other venues around town.
The Capitals have won seven consecutive regular-season games in Pittsburgh, all but one in regulation, and they've done it in a variety of settings. Their past three victories have come in different facilities -- Mellon Arena, Heinz Field and Consol Energy Center.
Put these clubs on a barge in the middle of the Allegheny, and Washington would have to like its chances of going home with a couple of points.
The Penguins haven't defeated Washington at home since Dec. 27, 2007, and they had to go to overtime to do it then.
With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik dealing with injuries, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Tyler Kennedy and perhaps throwback Richard Park are the only guys likely to be in the lineup who have experienced winning a regular-season game against the Capitals at home.
That said, few, if any, of the Penguins seem to even be aware of the problems Washington has given them on home ice in recent seasons, and certainly none appear to be tormented by that seven-game stumble against the Capitals.
"Sometimes skilled teams like them tend to keep their games a little more simple on the road, and maybe that's given them a slight advantage," center Mark Letestu said after an optional practice Wednesday.
"Other than that, I think it's just two skilled teams for the last few years now going up against each other. They're close hockey games. They just happen to be coming out with the upper hand in the past few."
That regular-season success hasn't extended to the playoffs (the Penguins won two of three games at Mellon Arena en route to a second-round victory in 2009) or to Washington (the Penguins are 7-3-2 in their past 12 visits to Verizon Center), which might explain why the Penguins haven't developed a mental block about facing them.
"Definitely not," defenseman Deryk Engelland said.
Still, it's not as if Washington's run of victories defies belief or explanation, because the Capitals have been one of the league's top clubs for several years, and their lineup is liberally sprinkled with some of hockey's elite talents.
Alex Ovechkin is on the short list of the world's greatest players. Alexander Semin has an outrageously powerful shot. Nicklas Backstrom is a superb playmaker. Mike Green's offensive gifts have gotten him into more than a few Norris Trophy conversations.
"They have a pretty good ability to put the puck in the net," Letestu said.
The Capitals also have some capable role players, although they don't tend to get much recognition. Several lower-profile forwards with whom the Penguins had grown familiar are working elsewhere these days, but Washington still possesses a pretty fair supporting cast.
"They got rid of a couple of their role guys, [David] Steckel and [Matt] Bradley and [Eric] Fehr," forward Craig Adams said. "Those guys killed us.
"But they still have [Jason] Chimera and those guys. I actually think [John] Erskine is a pretty good defenseman who doesn't get enough credit."
Engelland cited center Matt Hendricks as an under-appreciated contributor -- "He battles every shift" -- and likened Washington's role players to those of the Penguins.
"It's similar to us," he said. "A lot of the third- and fourth-line guys on our team fly a little bit under the radar when our lineup is healthy and everyone is in, and they contribute a whole heck of a lot."
There's something else the Penguins and Capitals have in common: A well-documented dislike for one another. Which is why neither club should have trouble getting motivated for the game tonight, regardless of what happened in any of the seven that preceded it here.
"I think it's a great test," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "And I think it's [a] great way to put your team on alert."
First Published October 13, 2011 12:00 am