The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals currently hold the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference, but both clubs are far from polished products.
While the visiting Penguins try to win consecutive games for the first time in more than two weeks, the banged-up Capitals look to avoid their third straight defeat when the rivals meet Thursday night.
Pittsburgh and Washington each own 56 points in the competitive Eastern Conference, and both are pursuing the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh won the season’s first meeting, 4-1 at Washington on Nov. 9.
The Penguins are amid a 3-0-2 stretch, but they last won back-to-back contests on Jan. 8-10.
On Tuesday, Kris Letang had two goals and two assists in his first game since Dec. 28. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each posted one with two assists as Pittsburgh recorded its most goals of the season during a 7-6 overtime win versus Florida.
However, the Penguins also allowed a season-high six goals for the fourth time. Pittsburgh averages 3.3 goals but allows roughly 3.1 per contest.
“It was another one of those high-event games,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think we’ve got to get better there.
“There’s a lot of urgency. Because, I think we’re in a tight race here, and we will be for the rest of the year. … We gotta control what we can to set ourselves up for success.”
After Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry, who stopped 67-of-70 shots in his previous two starts, was scratched Tuesday with an upper-body injury, Casey DeSmith made 33 saves. Though DeSmith is 2-0-1 in his last three starts, he’s yielded 14 goals in those games. He stopped 24-of-25 shots at Washington in the first meeting.
Sullivan said that Jarry won’t play again until after the All-Star break.
The Penguins are currently mired in a 1-5-2 road rut.
Meanwhile, Washington has managed just 21 goals while going 3-6-0 overall since Jan. 6. Alex Ovechkin missed last weekend’s 6-2 loss at Vegas and returned with a goal Tuesday at Colorado, but Washington still lost 3-2.
Veteran forward Tom Wilson exited with an apparent leg injury and is considered day-to-day. The Capitals also played without Nicklas Backstrom (illness) and T.J. Oshie (personal reasons), leaving their lineup potentially uncertain again Thursday.
Following a 1-2-0 trip out west, Washington returns home, where it’s totaled just 10 goals while going 1-3-1 in January.
“If we just stick with it, stick to our game plan and continue to grind away, then try to move our way up the standings every night, then I think (that’s a good sign) to come for us,” Capitals forward Conor Sheary told The Washington Post.
Washington’s Darcy Kuemper made 23 saves Tuesday and has a 3.08 goals-against average during a 2-4-0 starting stretch. He stopped 24 shots against Pittsburgh this season. Meanwhile, backup Charlie Lindgren (2.62 starting GAA) has lost his last two home starts.
Ovechkin has two goals with three assists in his last five games. He’s posted 69 points in 70 regular-season games versus Pittsburgh but was blanked in the November meeting.
Fellow superstars Crosby and Malkin each had an assist at Washington. Crosby has two goals with seven assists during a five-game point streak, while Malkin’s posted eight points in the last five.
–Field Level Media