A pair of lineup changes have helped the Pittsburgh Penguins snap out of a scoring slump.
It remains to be seen if those adjustments will help them finally solve the Washington Capitals.
Pittsburgh looks avoid a four-game season sweep at the hands of the Capitals and prevent being jumped in the Metropolitan Division standings when the clubs meet Wednesday night in D.C.
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The Penguins (34-17-9) scored once in each contest during an 0-2-1 stretch before beating St. Louis 4-2 on Saturday and Florida 5-1 on Sunday. Evgeni Malkin assisted on Blake Comeau’s second goal against the Blues, then scored twice and added an assist on Patric Hornqvist’s power-play tally the next day.
"It doesn’t matter what team we play. If we play right and play our game, we’ll beat any team in the league," Malkin said. "We showed the last two games how we can play. We need to keep that same focus."
Comeau being moved to a line with Malkin and Chris Kunitz has paid obvious dividends. Malkin also was shifted back to the point on the power play, and that has resulted in the Penguins converting two of six chances after failing on all 20 over their previous nine games.
"(The power play) went a long time without scoring," Malkin said. "We talked a lot about it last week. I’m playing point, like when we started at the beginning of the season and the same five guys. We wanted to move the puck, not just the puck, but move our bodies, too. You see it’s working."
Now the Penguins hope those changes can produce results against the Capitals (33-18-10), who sit one point behind third-place Pittsburgh. Eric Fehr had two goals and former Penguin Brooks Orpik added an assist in a 3-0 win over Washington on Dec. 27.
Alex Ovechkin scored twice in a 4-0 victory Jan. 28 before recording a goal and an assist in last Tuesday’s 3-1 win. Washington has killed off each of Pittsburgh’s 11 power plays, and Braden Holtby has stopped 90 of 91 shots while starting each matchup.
Holtby has made a league-high 52 appearances and ranks among the NHL leaders in goals-against average at 2.16 and save percentage at .924. He has posted a 1.73 GAA while winning three of his last four starts, beating the New York Islanders 3-2 in a shootout Saturday and losing by the same score to Philadelphia on Sunday as Washington had a four-game winning streak snapped.
Coach Barry Trotz said he’s not concerned about Holtby’s stamina, though he knows he’ll face a tough test if he’s net as expected for this contest.
"The (last two games) you’re starting to see the true Pittsburgh Penguin team," Trotz said. "I think there’s a little bit of a rivalry that’s starting to develop again. I think both teams will be ramped up."
The Capitals have a solid hold on the first Eastern Conference wild-card spot and also have their sights set on climbing to the top of a tight Metropolitan race.
"We’ve got 21 games left in about the same amount of time you play the postseason," Trotz said. "It’s a good way to get prepared for the playoffs."
Marc-Andre Fleury has posted a 3.05 GAA while starting each matchup with Washington. He has the same season GAA as Holtby and has gone 4-2-1 with a 1.00 GAA and two shutouts in his last seven starts.
Pittsburgh defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has missed the last 12 games with a concussion. There’s a chance he could return for this contest but is more likely to play Sunday against Columbus.