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              Capitals @ Penguins Preview         by: Sparky      March 24, 2002


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Washington Capitals
Pittsburgh Penguins

March 24th, 2002   7:00 pm
       The Stats
27-33-7-4, 65 points
12th, Eastern Conference
1-0-2-0 vs. Washington
2.45 Goals/Game (21st)
2.94 GAA (T-25th)
13.5% PP (27th)
83.7% PK (17th)
15-17-3-1 at home
2.80 G/G
3.40 GAA
3.00 G/G 
3.30 GAA

Top Scorers
A. Kovalev - 29
J. Hrdina - 22
R. Lang - 18
A. Kovalev - 38
R. Lang - 32
J. Hrdina - 28
A. Kovalev - 67
R. Lang - 50
J. Hrdina - 49
Aubin 3-9-1, 3.39, .882
Hedberg 24-28-6, 2.72, .905
Sparky's Take
Magic 8-Ball
       Sparky's Take
Washington has finally gotten motivated.  All it took was a horrible early season, tons of injuries, the trade of the team's top scorer and the GM essentially throwing in the towel.  Since then, the Caps have rattled off three straight road wins in 5 days and are looking more like a team than at any point of the season to date.  Tonight they have the chance to get some revenge against perennial nemesis Pittsburgh as a Caps victory would essentially end the Penguins hopes for a playoff spot.

The Caps have depended on Jaromir Jagr in these key games.  He's put up 6 points in the three wins and 10 points in his last 5 games to spark the Capitals' offense.  Jagr is dominating every game while he is on the ice, working very well with the skilled Glenn Metropolit and the size and speed of Dainius Zubrus.  Last night the long-dormant third line picked up some slack as Ulf Dahlen put in two goals and Steve Konowalchuk added two assists against Columbus.  Andrei Nikolishin is also staying involved as he converted a gorgeous centering pass from Bondra.  Rookie J. F. Fortin got his first NHL tally, a rink long empty net goal.  Washington has tightened up defensively, is killing penalties very aggressively, and is compensating well for the loss of Adam Oates.  They are still struggling a little on the PP with Sergei Gonchar out due to a concussion.

The Penguins hovered around the 8th seed all year, but injuries have put them in a very tight spot.  Besides missing oft-hurt Mario "Look at my gold medal" Lemieux, the Pens have lost Robert Lang and Marty Straka for the rest of the season.  They traded rough and tumble D-man Darius Kasparaitis to Colorado, so they hardly resemble the Pittsburgh teams of seasons past.  Lately they've struggled, even against weaker foes, although they always play the Capitals very, very tough.  The Penguins haven't beaten a playoff team since a 4-2 vicotry over the Islanders March 4th.

Players to Watch:

-Jan Hrdina has taken over top line duties for the Penguins and has really come around this year.  He's setting career highs in all major offensive categories, is playing good defense, and is a better faceoff man than in years past.  He works well with Kovalev and has become a decent power play guy.  Hrdina is a lot like Nikolishin on the ice as he plays a very responsible two way game and is at his best in the neutral zone with a little space..

-Alexei Kovalev is the only big name left for the Pens, and he leads them in offensive numbers.  He has great speed, a wicked shot, and great offensive instincts.  Few players are as good as Kovalev at finding and settling into open spots in the offensive zone, and his team-mates have learned to feed him the puck as much as possible.  He's at his most dangerous in wide-open situations, but is able to muscle pucks away in front of the net for scoring chances..

-Mario Lemieux, Marty Straka, Robert Lang.  None of these three will be playing as they are all gone for the season with a variety of injuries.  Few teams have lost as much firepower in one season as the Pens have, but they've fought through the losses as much as possible.  Look out for the young players on the ice in their steads..

The Caps got a scare when Columbus came back late from a 2-0 deficit, but they resonded like champs by scoring two quick goals and an empty netter for a vital win against a lesser opponent.  Though they will be exhausted from all the travel and their second game in as many nights, watch for the Caps new found unity and determination to carry them to a close, hard fought victory. 

Prediction: 3-2 Caps win.

The Igloo Report
       The Matchups




Penalty Kill


Due to injuries the Penguins are scrambling just to get enough bodies out there.  Caps are solid.

Both teams have struggled in their own end, but the Caps have looked better lately, even on the road.

Hedberg always plays the Caps very tough, Kolzig and Billington have been great lately, though.

Kovalev for the Pens, Jagr, Bondra, Zubrus, Hogue for the Caps.  Edge Washington, even without Gonchar.

The Caps have been OK lately, but the Pens have played better this season.  Could be the key factor.

The Caps have answered the call with three straight road wins.  The Pens are hurt and sliding further back.

The Caps are less beat up and should be able to win this going away.  It is Pittsburgh, though, so it won't be easy.
       Magic 8-Ball Says...
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30-31-10-1  71 points
9th, Eastern Conference
0-1-2-0 vs. Columbus
2.75 Goals/Game (9th)
3.00 GAA  (27th)
19.4% PP (3rd)
81.4% PK  (26th)
12-19-5-0 on road
3.40 G/G 
2.80 GAA
2.80 G/G 
2.80 GAA

Top Scorers
P. Bondra - 34
J. Jagr - 30
S. Gonchar - 23
J. Jagr - 40
S. Gonchar - 32
P. Bondra - 25
J. Jagr - 70
P. Bondra - 59
S. Gonchar - 55
Olaf Kolzig 26-27-7, 2.85, .902
C. Billington 4-5-3, 3.04, .879
"Will the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight?"

"You may rely on it."

A definite answer bodes well for Washington.  Pittsburgh finally faces a determined, healthy Jaromir Jagr and isn't up to the task as the Caps cruise to a 5-1 win in Steel City.

Magic 8-Ball's Record: