In the second game, the Nashville Predators, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team last season, go for their League-leading 12th victory when they visit the Colorado Avalanche (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Here are five storylines to watch:
Crosby vs. Ovechkin, Season 14, Round two
Few players in any sport have been as intertwined as Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. Each was a star from the minute he first set foot on the ice (Oct. 5, 2005), and each remains among the NHL’s best players. Each has played 13 games this season — Crosby has 14 points (six goals, eight assists); Ovechkin has 17 (11 goals, six assists). Each has done well against the other’s team. Crosby has 65 points (20 goals, 45 assists) in 46 games against Washington; Ovechkin has more goals (34) but fewer assists (23) and points (57) in 53 games against Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has struggled since a 6-1-2 start that included a sweep of its four-game Canadian road trip. The Penguins are 0-3-1 in their past four games; they were swept 6-3 and 3-2 in a shootout by the New York Islanders in a home-and-home series before losing their past two games at home; 5-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs and 5-1 to the New Jersey Devils. Coach Mike Sullivan said after the loss to New Jersey that the Penguins were “thinking too much instead of being in an instinctive mode,” and that they “just have to work together” to get out of their slump.
Capitals bumping along
Washington and Pittsburgh are tied for second in the Metropolitan Division at 6-4-3, but the Capitals are coming off a win after two losses (one in overtime). First-year coach Todd Reirden shook up all four lines and started backup goaltender Pheonix Copley on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, and the Capitals won 4-2. The new fourth line of Jakub Vrana, Travis Boyd and Devante Smith-Pelly gave the Capitals a lift by scoring the first two goals. Using Copley gave Reirden a chance to give starter Braden Holtby (4-3-2, 3.62 goals-against average, .888 save percentage) a break. Holtby is likely to be back in goal against the Penguins.
Predators road warriors
The Predators (11-3-0) picked up where they left off last season, when they set a Nashville record with 117 points and won the Presidents’ Trophy. They’ve shown few after-effects from a seven-game loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Second Round; the Predators are coming off three straight home wins against teams that made the NHL’s final eight last season (Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins) and will be trying for their seventh road win without a loss. Forwards Ryan Johansen (15 points) and Filip Forsberg (10 goals) lead one of the NHL’s deepest offenses, P.K. Subban keys a superb group of defensemen and the goaltending combination of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros might be the NHL’s best.
Avalanche’s top line hot, defense cold
In contrast to Nashville, the Avalanche put most of their offensive eggs in the same basket – the top line of center Nathan MacKinnon between Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. They’ve combined for 63 points (27 goals, 36 assists); the rest of the team has scored 25 goals. Rantanen leads the NHL in assists (19) and points (24); he’s a big reason MacKinnon (21 points) and Landeskog (18 points) each has 11 goals. Colorado’s problem in the past week has been keeping the puck out of its own net; the Avalanche are 0-2-1 in their past three games and are coming off back-to-back losses to the Calgary Flames (6-5) and Vancouver Canucks (7-6 in OT), when they were unable to hold third-period leads.