Penguins' Crosby, Capitals' Ovechkin go from teammates to foes (Feb 02, 2018)
PITTSBURGH -- On Sunday, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin played together at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Fla., each setting up the other for a goal.
On Friday, the longtime rivals will be back in more familiar roles at PPG Paints Arena -- Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins taking on Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in a game that will have Metropolitan Division implications.
The Capitals (30-15-5) lead the division and are six points ahead of the Penguins (28-21-3) with two games in hand.
"There's a rivalry between both teams, and I'm sure both bring out the best in each other, but I think there's some mutual respect there," Crosby said Thursday.
Crosby has a 10-game point streak (three goals, 20 points). Ovechkin leads the NHL with 30 goals. Also hot recently is Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin, who was named the first star of the month for January with 12 goals and 19 points.
The teams split their first two meetings, both in Washington, but haven't met since Nov. 10. Things are tenser now that the All-Star weekend is in the rearview mirror and the playoffs are only a little more than two months away.
"Most teams that are in our position, that are in that playoff grouping, everybody is turning it up," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "I think everybody kicks it up. That's where you separate the men from the boys a little bit."
Pittsburgh, which has won three straight, was 9-3 in January. The team has tied its season best with a six-game home winning streak.
"I think it's a great opportunity," Crosby said of the matchup. "We've done a lot of good things. We're going to be challenged."
Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen, a former Penguins player, has seen strong second halves from Pittsburgh before.
"They have a history of being really good from this time of year on, and they're starting to play better recently," Niskanen said. "They're coming. We're going to have to up our game down the stretch to stay ahead of them. And we want to keep building so we hit our stride at the right time of the year."
The Capitals have won two in a row and were 6-2-2 in January.
"We know it's going to be a hard-fought battle against a team we have a lot of history with," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
"Anytime you're playing divisional rivals and the type of history that we've built up over the years, those always tend to have heightened emotions associated with them. I think (Friday) night will be one of those games. They're one of the better teams in the league. It will be a big test for us, and I'm sure our players will be up for that and excited to compete."
Against the Capitals at home, the Penguins have won eight of the past 11 meetings.
Pittsburgh will be without first-line winger Conor Sheary, who is week to week because of a lower-body injury he apparently sustained Tuesday against San Jose.
"Conor is a really good player. He's not easy to replace. He brings a certain dimension to our team," Sullivan said. "But we have capable guys that we can plug in that give us an opportunity to win games."
Bryan Rust is expected to slot into Sheary's spot.