Capitals-Penguins Preview

Aside from a brief scare when Sidney Crosby went down in their

last game, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t shown signs of slowing

down offensively.

If their recent meeting with Washington is any indication, Chris

Kunitz may play a role in keeping things rolling against a Capitals

team that has the fewest points in the NHL.

The Penguins try to win their fifth straight game on Thursday

night when they look to beat the visiting Capitals for the second

time in five days.

Pittsburgh (7-3-0) enters this game as the NHL’s second-highest

scoring team, with its 33 goals trailing only Tampa Bay’s 40.

The Penguins matched their season-best scoring outburst with a

6-3 win at Washington to open a brief two-game trip on Sunday

before beating the New York Islanders 4-2 on Tuesday.

Despite having two goals in 13 previous meetings, Kunitz

appeared to be unstoppable against the Capitals as he ended up with

a career-high four goals – one of which was awarded Monday after

initially being credited to Paul Martin.

Kunitz has five goals and three assists in his last three games

after having one and three in his first seven.

Pittsburgh is also expected to have Crosby in the lineup despite

its captain being struck in the face by the puck in the second

period on Tuesday.

Crosby returned to the ice after only a couple minutes, but had

a swollen nose that was still bleeding after the game.

“Nice surprise,” said Crosby, who has six assists in his last

three games. “I’m glad that it’s not broken.”

The Penguins also seem to be getting their struggling power play

worked out, converting 3 of 6 chances in the last two games after a

1-for-18 stretch over the previous five. They went 2 for 3 – with

Kunitz scoring both – against Washington.

Pittsburgh, however, will face goalie Michal Neuvirth in this

meeting after beating Braden Holtby for six goals on Sunday.

Neuvirth is 1-4-1 with a 2.99 goals-against average this season,

but has a 1.46 GAA with two shutouts while splitting four career

starts against the Penguins.

“He’s played pretty good and we need a goalie to have a good

game, and I think it’s going to be Michal,” coach Adam Oates told

the team’s official website.

The Capitals (2-7-1) dropped their second straight and fourth in

five games with a 3-2 home loss to Toronto on Tuesday. They’re also

0-3-1 on the road as they begin a stretch of four of five away from

Washington.

“It’s tough to keep our confidence up,” Oates said.

With his team near the bottom of the Eastern Conference at 2.3

goals per game, Oates has to find a way to get stars Alex Ovechkin

and Nicklas Backstrom going after slow starts.

Ovechkin has 10 goals and nine assists in his last 10 trips to

Pittsburgh – including the postseason – but has just two goals and

three assists this season.

Backstrom has scored only once, but he has recorded a point in

five consecutive games.

Mike Ribeiro had a goal and an assist in the first meeting with

the Penguins, and could be starting to heat up after adding another

goal against the Maple Leafs.

While the Capitals faced Tomas Vokoun in the first meeting, they

could see Marc-Andre Fleury this time around.

Fleury has allowed a total of three goals in his last two starts

and has a 1.51 GAA in his last four starts against the

Capitals.

The Penguins snapped an eight-game regular-season home winless

streak against Washington with a 4-3 victory Jan. 22, 2012, in the

most recent meeting in Pittsburgh.