Entering their game on Sunday against Buffalo, the Capitals had lost four of five games and had scored just seven times during that stretch. But the Caps broke out of their offensive slump with a big 5-3 win over the Sabres. Alex Ovechkin scored his team-leading 11th goal in the game, while linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had two-point nights. Perhaps that game will jumpstart increased production from Washington’s top players like Ovechkin and Backstrom, who has just three goals in 28 games. Right now, the team’s scoring leader is Mike Ribeiro with 31 points (10G-21A).
The Capitals begin a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh feeling good after beating Buffalo, but they still have a lot of work to do to make the playoffs. It seemed like the Capitals were turning their season around when they recently won five of six games, only to go on a stretch where they lost four of six. With 20 games left in the season and seven points behind Southeast Division leader Winnipeg, getting wins this week is crucial for the Capitals. “It’s biggest week for us,” Alex Ovechkin told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “How we going to play this week, we can end the season this week or we continue to fight for the playoffs.”
They should get a lift whenever heart-and-soul winger and team leader Brooks Laich returns to the lineup, who has not played yet this season with a groin injury. He could make his season debut on this road trip, as he’s getting closer to being game ready. The Capitals have also been without top defenseman Mike Green, who has yet to play this month with a groin injury.
Despite Green’s absence, Washington’s power play is back to being one of the best in the NHL after being ineffective early this season. It now ranks third in the league with a 24.5 percent success rate. Seven of Ovechkin’s 11 goals have come on the power play, which is tied for fifth in the league. Sixteen of Ribeiro’s 31 points have come on the man-advantage, and he and Troy Brouwer each have five power-play goals. Defenseman John Carlson has been playing the point with Green sidelined, while Backstrom and Joel Ward round out the first unit.
Goalie Braden Holtby started both losses against Pittsburgh this season, getting pulled in the second game. But he bounced back after that, winning eight of his next 11 starts – and the team rewarded him with a two-year contract extension a few weeks ago. However, Michal Neuvirth has gotten a decent chunk of starts this season, so either one of them could go on Tuesday.
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr – Mike Ribeiro – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mathieu Perreault – Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks – Jay Beagle – Joey Crabb
Karl Alzner – Steve Oleksy
Jack Hillen – John Carlson
Jeff Schultz – Tom Poti
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CAPITALS: MIKE RIBEIRO
Ribeiro has done well against the Penguins in both meetings between the teams this season, totaling four points (2G-2A) in those contests. The veteran center leads the Capitals with 31 points, is tied for first with 21 assists and ranks second behind Alex Ovechkin with 10 goals. Ribeiro has been especially effective on the power play, as 16 of his 31 points have come with the man-advantage.
PENGUINS: BROOKS ORPIK
Orpik had a beast of a performance on Sunday against the Bruins, finishing the game with seven hits and six blocked shots. He leads the NHL in the latter category with 84 in 30 games. The Penguins will be counting on Orpik to frustrate and shut down the Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, especially if Kris Letang does not play in the contest. Orpik will also be tasked with tough shorthanded minutes against Washington’s talented power play.
Defenseman Kris Letang suffered a lower-body injury late in the first period of Sunday’s win over Boston and did not return in the game. Head coach Dan Bylsma said after the game that Letang will be further evaluated.
F Evgeni Malkin, upper body
D John Erskine, upper body
D Mike Green, groin
D Tomas Kundratek, lower body
F Brooks Laich, groin
PENGUINS (22-8-0) vs. CAPITALS (12-15-1)
WHEN: March 19, 2013 – 7:30 p.m. | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS, NBC Sports Network | LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM
Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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