[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
Despite what you may have read elsewhere on the interwebs, the biggest diver in hockey likely will be in Pittsburgh's lineup for tonight's big game between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference since Turkey Day, but the focus will most likely be on the two Russians comrades who were taken one-two in the 2004 Entry Draft and have won the last two Calder Trophies. You know plenty about that first pick, so let's talk a bit about the second.
Evgeni Malkin is following up
last season's playoff disappearing act his brilliant debut with another big season - 24 goals, 29 assists, plus-six rating, etc. - with much of his success has come riding shotgun on Sidney Crosby's left wing. But with Crosby now out indefinitely, the pressure is on Malkin to step up and center the top line. And despite being drafted as a center, Malkin hasn't yet been able to really establish himself as an NHL pivot - he has the worst faceoff percentage (37.6%) of any center in the League who has taken more than 78 draws and has the fifth-most giveaways of any forward in hockey (Alex Ovechkin, incidentally, has the second-most, though he has a much better giveaway-to-takeaway ratio than Geno).
Make no mistake about it - Sidney Crosby is irreplaceable, both on and off the ice. But if there's a silver lining to his injury for the Pens, it's that they'll get a clearer picture of where Evgeni Malkin is in his development as a player and a leader. Something tells me they won't be disappointed.
Why The Pens Will Win:
"Evgeni Malkin. Period. The guy has been playing like he has a chip on his shoulder the size of the Communist Bloc. His consistent dismissal of an all-star game invitation will fuel 'Geno' to new levels leaving goalies to beware." - Confessions of a Hockey Fanatic (and if you're more of an aural learner, check out the audio clip Mike sent over - very cool):boomp3.com
"This game has Capitals finally rise up and beat the Penguins all over it..... It should be a really entertaining game. How come no one ever talks about Malkin vs. A.O. Old fashion shootout. Pens torch caps goalie Jim Carey 6-4." - The Pensblog
"The Pittsburgh Penguins will win this game because of, wait for it, defense. Gasp! That's right, since getting lambasted by the injury bug in 2008, the Penguins have clamped down in their own zone and played tight hockey in front of some hot goaltenders. Ty Conklin has been absolutely stellar between the pipes and Dany Sabourin earned a shutout in his first start of 2008 Saturday night in Montreal. Evgeni Malkin rose to the occasion in Crosby's absence Saturday and I'd expect him to do the same tonight." - Faceoff-Factor
"Let me preface this by saying that I was once a resident of Northern Virginia. Yes, I was one of those Penguins fans that all Capitals fans hate. You could count on me being at each and every game that the Pens came south to meet Washington, in my Lemieux jersey, agitating everyone around me to the point that my well being was threatened on many occasions. But those, as they say, were the days...
"The series is much better when both teams are competitive. Right now, the Caps are in a re-building stage and the Pens are at a much different stage of development. This alone should be reason enought that Pittsburgh will prevail. But, due to Sid Crosby's ankle injury, the plot has thickened. In the Pens most recent game, a 2-1 victory against the Canadiens, they proved to everyone, including themselves (and this may be the most important), that they can win without #87 in the lineup. They did so by playing sound defense, finishing checks and eliminating costly mistakes. Does this sound like a typical Penguins team? No. And this is the same team that the Capitals will face tonight. If Washington is not prepared for a gritty, hard nosed game then they will not end up on top when 60 minutes have been played. If they are prepared, which I believe they will be, it should be a very tight contest with the Pens winning in OT 3-2." - Home of the Penguins
"The Penguins will win because it's not just about Crosby, it's about Malkin. The Pens supporting cast (Malone, Sykora, Gonchar) is more skilled, experienced than the Caps. The Caps have given up three or more goals 5 times in calender year 2008 already; the Penguins just once. The Pens will win because role players like Jarrko Ruutu and Georges Laraque spend more time on the cycle than Lance Armstrong. But mainly the Pens will win tonight because they've beaten the Capitals six times in a row, it's just one of those things that's meant to be." - The Sweater Ted
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
On this national holiday, I wonder how Donald Brashear and George Laraque plan to honor the memory of famously pacifistic Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.... Mathieu Perreault is on a 17-game point-scoring streak (only 44 games to go to tie Mario Lemieux's record) and is tied for sixth in the Q in scoring with 64 points in 40 games (three points behind fellow Caps prospect Francois Bouchard).... Maybe the Caps are scouting the Jax after all.... Another Canadian writer thinks Alex is overpaid. Surprise.... Short blurb on Flash.... Finally, a special welcome to our puppy-stealin' friends to the north. Make yourselves at home.
Hart: John Madden (2G, including the game-winner, +1, 5 SOG)
Ross: Scottie Upshall, Braydon Coburn (3 points each)
Norris: Braydon Coburn (G, 2A, +3)
Vezina: Tim Thomas (W, 30 saves on 31 shots against)
Richard: Brenden Morrow, Niklas Hagman, John Madden, Scottie Upshall (2G each)
Calder: Andrew Cogliano (A, +2)
Aiken: Martin Gerber (L, 4 goals allowed on 14 shots against in 39:51 of work)