The Washington Capitals are looking to put a tough January behind them and get off on the right foot to open February with a rivalry showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Washington is coming off a strong 5-0 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday and will look to keep the offense going against the Penguins. It will mark the first game of a back-to-back, where the Capitals will host the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday before the All-Star Break.
Pittsburgh sits four points in front of Washington and ranks third in the Metropolitan Division. With a win, the Capitals can gain traction in the race and work toward breaking out of Wild Card territory.
However, head coach Peter Laviolette confirmed that Vitek Vanecek would make the start in goal. The 26-year-old has taken over the Washington crease and has started six of the team’s last eight games. Over that stretch, he has posted two shutouts, a .941 save percentage and 1.67 GAA, and his play could be giving the Capitals a lot to think about with regard to the trade deadline and their goaltending situation. Washington has been rumored to be targeting Marc-Andre Fleury given their inconsistencies in net to open 2021-22.
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Meanwhile, the Capitals could see a key blueliner make his return to the lineup in Nick Jensen. The 31-year-old suffered an upper-body injury on Jan. 20 against the Boston Bruins and has missed the last four games while on the injured reserve. Laviolette said that Jensen will be a game-time decision.
Jensen has been an integral part of the Washington blue line this season, leading the team with a +/- rating of plus-20. He has cemented his place as a top-4 blueliner and usually skates on the second pairing with Dmitry Orlov. He is also averaging 19:20 minutes a night, the most since his time in Detroit back in 2018-19. Not only can he play a shutdown game in his own end, but he also moves the puck well up ice and joins in the rush. The 6-1, 205-pound defenseman has three goals and 11 points through 49 games this season and is on pace to set a new career-high in scoring (21 points).
Michal Kempny remains on COVID-19 protocol.
Here were the lines the Capitals rolled with on Tuesday:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Conor Sheary-Nicklas Backstrom-Daniel Sprong
Connor McMichael-Lars Eller-Joe Snively
Carl Hagelin-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Justin Schultz
Matt Irwin-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Aliaksei Protas and Brett Leason skated as extras on the forward lines. Jensen, along with Dennis Cholowski and Lucas Johansen, cycled in on the backend.