There’s a notion in not only the hockey world but the sports world that the league slows down for no one.
This is an apropos statement for both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were each on top of the hockey world in recent memory, but have struggled to tread an awfully competitive National Hockey League after their memorable Cup runs. And as if the rivalry between these two teams wasn’t exciting enough, the handful of meetings scheduled for the upcoming season should not disappoint, as each club is hungry to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup once (or twice) more.
But, let’s not forget another key factor that plays into this — time is running out.
Alexander the Gre(y)at
On one side, Capitals’ captain Alexander Ovechkin, who celebrated his 35th birthday last month, isn’t particularly losing any grey hair in that playoff beard.
The six-foot-three sniper still ranks among the top of a plethora of skill and statistical categories. But as his career goes on, the Washington front office has shown signs of struggling to build a championship-caliber team around him.
As if the journey to the Capitals’ first Cup wasn’t hard enough, the league waits around for nobody.
Sid the Not-So Kid
On the other hand, Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby is 33 years old, and Pittsburgh’s core is dwindling. Three seasons removed from his last Cup, Sid hasn’t lost much in terms of skill, especially his defensive play. But if we’ve learned anything from Pittsburgh’s previous couple of seasons, it’s that general manager Jim Rutherford and the front office are seemingly trying to piece together a shattered vase.
Once Rutherford glues a piece, another falls out. From the goaltending to depth forwards and shaky defensemen, the Penguins are not far from a rebuild. The only question, can a rebuild get finished by the time Crosby and Evgeni Malkin retire? Or will big changes need to be made?
Sure, Penguins fans all around the world would love to see the team contend for a Cup year in and year out. But as the years go by, the chances of that seem less and less.
You’re Only as Good as Your Goaltending
Fans that watch both the Penguins and Capitals know that the two teams are very similar. Both are teams around absolute superstars in Crosby and Ovechkin. Both teams have exceptional talent around each of them and have extraordinary, passionate fan bases. This year, however, each team will enter the season with a new goaltender taking the lead role and bid farewell to a Cup-winning netminder. There is a difference, though — experience.
For Washington, the Capitals brought in a seasoned veteran, former Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist, who was beloved by New York Rangers fans but could never get the job done in the postseason. He lost in his only Stanley Cup Final appearance to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014.
For Pittsburgh, the Penguins welcome a young player, Tristan Jarry, who had been touted by the front office for his spectacular play early in his career. Touted enough, apparently, to force two-time Stanley Cup champion, Matt Murray, out of town, who was traded to the Ottawa Senators last month.
There are a handful of really entertaining rivalries in the NHL; from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens to the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, the New York Islanders and Rangers, and even the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. But, in recent memory, the competitiveness along with the sheer star power of the Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and others, the Penguins and Capitals rivalry has become one of the best hockey has to offer.
Sure, this rivalry might not have the historical significance of Leafs and Habs. But considering what has taken place in the recent decade or so, it stacks up with the best.
Since their first playoff meeting in the 1991 Patrick Division Final, the Capitals and Penguins have met in the playoffs 10 more times, with Pittsburgh winning nine of the 11 total meetings. However, the Capitals were victorious in the last matchup, which shut down the Penguins’ hopes of making a run at a third-straight title and subsequently lifted Washington to its first Cup in franchise history.
In the regular season, the Penguins lead the all-time series 112-95-16-5. Forget all the statistics, though. We all know that when you tune in to see these two franchises battle it out, you’re going to see some fights, some blood, and some hatred. But, when it’s all said and done, there is nothing but mutual respect.
The Capitals will see a familiar face behind the Penguins’ bench for the upcoming season, as former Capitals’ head coach Todd Reirden has been welcomed to Pittsburgh as an assistant coach. Reirden, who went 89-46-16 in his tenure as the Caps’ bench boss, will start his second stint in Pittsburgh after serving as an assistant from 2010 to 2014.
In addition, the Capitals’ new head coach, Peter Laviolette, lost to the Penguins during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final as the bench boss of the Nashville Predators.
Jake Deemer covers the Pittsburgh Penguins while previously writing for The Derrick & The News-Herald newspaper in Oil City, Pa. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Deemer graduated from Clarion University in 2018 with a degree in Digital Media Communications and Sports Journalism.