It’s the last meeting of the season between superstars Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have bigger things in mind when they visit the Washington Capitals on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game road trip.
Crosby and Ovechkin have been the talk of the NHL over the past two seasons, as both players have evolved into stars. Each player scored more than 100 points last season, with Ovechkin also reaching 50 goals for the Capitals to earn the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year.
Crosby has followed up his 102-point rookie campaign with an NHL-leading 111 points for the Penguins this season, leading Pittsburgh to the brink of the playoffs. Ovechkin has 43 goals and 86 points for Washington, but his team has already been eliminated from postseason contention and is in a freefall as the regular season comes to a close.
The Penguins (43-23-10) have won all three meetings this season and seven of the past eight between these teams. Neither player has had a breakout game this season, as Crosby has one goal and two assists in the three contests while Ovechkin has a pair of assists.
Crosby, though, can focus on the playoffs, as Pittsburgh has moved into a tie with New Jersey atop the Atlantic Division with 96 points. If the Penguins can win the division, it would likely mean finishing second in the Eastern Conference and earning home-ice advantage in the first round.
“Finishing second (in the conference as opposed to) finishing fifth for us is a pretty big deal,” said Gary Roberts, who had a goal and two assists in Pittsburgh’s 5-0 win over Boston on Sunday.
Crosby had two goals and an assist against the Bruins, snapping a season-high three-game scoreless streak.
“He was on fire,” Boston coach Dave Lewis said.
The Penguins have gone 10-3-1 this month to catch the Devils in the division, and their 43 wins this season are their most since the 1995-96 club earned 49 victories.
Crosby has four goals and 12 points in seven career games against Washington, while Ovechkin has three goals and eight points against the Penguins in the same span.
He’s been shutdown, though, as Washington (26-37-13) has stumbled to the end of the regular season. The Capitals just finished 0-3-0 on a road trip and have lost 17 of their past 20 games.
Ovechkin has 10 goals in those 20 games, but has been held without a point in 11 of those contests, including Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Montreal.
The Canadiens are contending for a playoff spot, just like the Penguins.
“I miss that atmosphere, a playoff push, and hopefully we get all the pieces in place next year that we can be in this position come April,” Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig said.
Washington has won two straight at home after dropping seven in a row there. The Capitals are last in the Southeast Division with 65 points, the second-worst total in the East.