The Pittsburgh Penguins may be having their way with opponents in December and January, but a lopsided setback against the Washington Capitals still resonates with coach Mike Sullivan. Winners of five in a row and boasting a 13-1-2 mark in their last 16, the Penguins look to atone for a dismal performance versus the Capitals in November when the Metropolitan Division rivals meet at Verizon Center on Wednesday.
“It’s a game where we certainly weren’t at our best,” Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of a 7-1 shellacking on Nov. 6. Phil Kessel scored a late third-period goal in that outing and has tallied in the second straight contest in Sunday’s 6-2 rout of Tampa Bay to extend his point streak to five games.
Streaky Pittsburgh has company in the top-heavy Metropolitan Division with Washington, winners of six in a row, joining the Penguins and New York Rangers in a second-place logjam behind Columbus. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 544th career goal to tie Maurice Richard for 29th on the NHL’s all-time list in Monday’s 4-1 triumph over Montreal, resides one point shy of becoming the first Russian-born player to reach 1,000.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVAS
LINE: Many sportsbooks have the Capitals pegged with a -120 moneyline after opening Washington as a slightly larger moneyline favorite, with Pittsburgh coming back at Even money. The total is at 5.5 goals.
INJURY REPORT: Penguins – K. Letang (Ques. Illness), P. Kessel (Ques. Illness), T. Daley (Ques. Illness), C. Ruhwedel (Ques. Illness), T. Kuhnhackl (Ques. Lower body). Capitals – T. Oshie (Prob. Upped body), T Wilson (Prob. Lower body)
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “This is one of the matchups I always try to watch, always produce great games with lots of stars on both sides. We opened this game with the Caps a -130 favourite and the Pens at +110 on the moneyline but with action coming in on the Pens we have moved to Caps -120 and Pens to Even, with just over 50 percent of the action on the moneyline coming in on the Caps.” — Michael Stewart, CarbonGaming.ag.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “While both teams are red hot, at this price, I’d lean to the Caps. Pens are 8-9 on the road, Caps are 15-6 at home. The home team has won both meetings this season, with the Caps winning 7-1 here at Washington. The Pens have allowed seven goals (while scoring 13) in their last three games. The Capitals, on the other hand, have allowed only a single goal over their last three games combined. They won them by a commanding 10-1 margin. Caps have tomorrow off, Pens play at Ottawa. Pens get outscored by a 3.2 to 2.9 margin on the road, Caps outscore teams by a 2.9 to 1.9 margin here at Washington. Pens 12-12 last 2-plus seasons in January, while Caps are 19-9. All things considered, the price could probably be a little higher.” — Covers Experts’ Ben Burns.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (26-8-5): Evgeni Malkin, who was selected to his seventh NHL All-Star Game on Tuesday, has recorded at least two-point performances in four of his last seven games and collected a goal and an assist in 3-2 shootout win over Washington on Oct. 13. The 30-year-old Russian’s 16 goals this season are second on the team to captain Sidney Crosby (26) and his 311 career are one shy of tying Rick Kehoe for fifth on the team’s all-time list. Crosby missed the first encounter with the Capitals as he dealt with concussion-like symptoms and was kept off the scoresheet and saddled with a minus-3 rating in the second before erupting for 31 (16 goals, 15 assists) of his 44 points.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (26-9-5): Like Ovechkin, Braden Holtby was named to the NHL’s All-Star Game on Tuesday and the goaltender’s play of late has been nothing short of spectacular. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner secured the league’s Third Star of the Week honors after stopping 81 of 82 shots in his last three contests and has yielded two goals or fewer in 10 of his last 12 starts. Holtby traditionally has struggled versus the Penguins (6-7-2, 2.59 goals-against average), but owns a 1-0-1 mark in two meetings this season with a 1.44 GAA and .946 save percentage.
– Home team is 6-0 in the last six meetings.
– Over is 5-2-5 in the last 12 meetings.
– Penguins are 5-2 in the last seven meetings.
CONSENSUS: 55 percent of moneyline bets like Washington while 62 percent like the Over 5.5 goals.