Caps (22-12-5, 49 points) at Penguins (25-11-3, 53 points)

What » Game # 40

Where » Heinz Field

When » 8 p.m.


Radio » WFED-1500 AM

Ready or not, the Winter Classic will be underway – weather permitting, of course – within the hour. Easy to forget with all the pomp and circumstance . surrounding this game that there are in fact two standings points at stake. Hope the game is as good as the one these two teams put on at Verizon Center last week – a 2-1 Pittsburgh win. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a shootout to decide a winner this time. 

Semyon Varlamov starts in goal for Washington. Defenseman Tom Poti (concussion) is out and defenseman Tyler Sloan is a scratch, too. Poti was injured after taking a stick to the head against the Penguins last week. You have to feel bad for the players who must sit this one out, including injured guys like Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon. But as Bruce Boudreau said earlier this week, you can only play 18 [skaters] and two [goalies]. And – he hopes - only one of those goalie will see the ice.    

“It’ll definitely be great to get a win – not just for the fact that it’s the Winter Classic, but it’s a team we’re trying to catch in the standings with what feels like the whole world watching,” said Caps forward Eric Fehr. “It’ll be great to show them who is the better team.”

For Pittsburgh, center Jordan Staal makes his long-awaited return. He had a foot injury last season during the playoffs and then broke his hand just when he was ready to return. He hasn’t played a game since May 12. That should provide a big lift for the Penguins. It certainly makes them a difficult team to match up with when Staal is healthy and playing well. But expect him to see limited minutes tonight after playing closer to 20 per game in 2009-10. Staal will play at least part of the time on a line with star forward Evgeni Malkin, who moves to the wing. Interesting to see what affect Staal’s presence has there.

“I guess there’s more drama to it because of the Winter Classic, but we approached the decision as if this was any other game,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “If this was a game in Buffalo today would [Staal] play? And the answer to that is unequivocally yes. And so that’s why for sure he’s playing this game.”  

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