Penguins at Capitals – NHL Pick for October 11th
With just five games on tap for Wednesday night hockey, there is plenty of time to sink your teeth into some juicy matchups. The unbeaten Leafs travel to Jersey to take on the upstart Devils, the Bruins and Avs bash in Colorado, the Ducks play host to the Islanders and the Flames try to take down the Kings in LA.
Yet while those exciting battles are taking place, one takes center stage in a game that everyone highlights on their calendar before the NHL season starts. It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Penguins and Capitals in Washington and we’re thankful that we get this awesome game at the start of the season. Let’s dig into the matchup of the decade and predict who’s going to come out on top!
- Pittsburgh (+114) at Washington (-126)
Washington has played three games this season with just one loss in overtime in their last outing against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They are in there rightful and familiar spot atop the Metropolitan Division and have shown no signs of slowing down after their playoff run last year. Regardless of their inability to close during the postseason, this is still a team that finds a way to win on a regular basis during the regular season. They had one of the best home records in all of hockey last year and dominated in their opening two matchups.
They lost their last (and most important game) against Pittsburgh 2-0 in a brutal performance in a pivotal Game 7, but both teams have changed since then and are off to fresh starts to begin the 2017-2018 campaign. Washington has taken a lot of slack over the years from fans and analysts alike for their inability to take down Pittsburgh, but they have a chance to get a bit of revenge on Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh is coming off a Stanley Cup, and a bit of a championship hangover is to be expected. That was on full display when they were absolutely embarrassed by the Chicago Blackhawks 10-1 in their second game of the season. Not too much should be read into that loss considering the Pens were playing in their second game in as many days, but it’s still not a great sign for a team that was trying to improve their defense.
They rebounded that loss with a 4-0 drubbing of a very good Nashville Predators team so any concerns of that 10-1 loss should be taken with a grain of salt. Now they get a chance to hit the road and beat their mortal enemy at home in a must-see game.
The Capitals have been scoring goals at a blistering rate to open the season. While the sample size is still small, 4.67 goals a game is ridiculous and they’ve shown no signs of slowing down. While many pundits argued that Alex Ovechkin had lost a step last season (he still scored 33 goals) he answered his critics with seven goals in his first two games and became the first player in 100 years to open the season with back-to-back hat tricks.
If you followed the Caps last season you’ll also remember Evgeny Kuznetsov’s struggles in the second half of the year. Any concerns about his play seem to be out the window as he leads the team with eight points through three games. A large part of Washington’s success has come on the powerplay where teams have failed to adjust to their puck-moving capabilities. They have scored ten goals on just 38 chances over their last ten games dating back to last season.
In Pittsburgh, the Penguins are no strangers to scoring goals. They led the league in total offense last season and continued that dominance en route to their second straight Stanley Cup. Almost every player is capable of scoring on offense while their defensemen are no strangers to jumping in and joining the rush. They’ve scored three goals a game so far which is just slightly lower than their average from last season, and we expect a few more pucks to find the back of the net on Wednesday night.
Leading the charge is the three-headed monster of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin who have combined for 11 points so far with captain Crosby leading the way with five of his own. One player to keep an eye on outside of these three is Jake Guentzel. The rookie was a key contributor to the Penguins’ run last season and led all playoff scorers in goals. He’s recorded three points through his first three games including finding the back of the net once. He was dynamite against the Caps in their series in the playoffs and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him light the lamp in this contest.
The biggest difference between these two teams seems to lie across the blueline. While Pittsburgh relies on outscoring their opponents every night the Capitals enjoy a more well-rounded game thanks to their deep defense. With that being said, they lost Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and are coming off a game against the Lightning in which they gave up five goals. Defense is always the last thing to come around for teams as they start a new season and we don’t expect the Caps to shut down the Pens anytime soon.
Things are bleaker in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have given up five goals a game this season thanks in large part to their 10-0 drubbing at the hands of the Blackhawks. The addition of a healthy Kris Letang to the blueline helps, but he’s more of an offensively minded blueliner. They also will be without Ian Cole for the game after suffering a broken jaw and some missing teeth in his last outing.
Matt Murray may know a thing or two about winning Stanley Cups, but he had a brutal showing in his first two games with a goals against average of 5.89 and a save percentage of just .831. Still, his coach stuck with him and he proceeded to answer the bell by shutting out the dangerous Nashville Predators in a huge bounce-back game. The Pens will need him to be sharp against the offensive powerhouse that is the Washington Capitals if they want to steal a win on the road.
In Washington, Braden Holtby returns between the pipes after getting the night off against the Lightning. He was spectacular last season and almost beat out Sergei Bobrovsky for his second straight Vezina Trophy. He outdueled Carey Price in his last outing but will be in against a much tougher team when the Pens take the ice on Wednesday.
Sidney Crosby against Alex Ovechkin. Whether it’s fair or not, these two will always be at the center of attention whenever their teams face-off. Ovechkin leads Crosby by two points so far this season but was held off the scoresheet in his last game. Both superstars set the tone for their teams and will be leaned on early.
The Penguins seem to have found their stride and always get up for big games against the Capitals. We love the odds they’re getting on the road so go ahead and grab them on the spread.