Since the mid-2000s, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals have been among the best teams in the NHL year after year. Fast forward to 2022, and both teams are still contending to win the Stanley Cup.
The two teams have met in the playoffs on four occasions, with the winner of those series advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and capturing a championship each time. With 2018 being the last time either team won a playoff series, a recurring question lingers: are their championship windows still open?
I think the answer for both franchises is yes, so instead, I would pose a different question: which team has the better chance to win one more Stanley Cup? Both have aging cores that have not yet dropped off, but at the same time, each passing year is potentially the last chance to win.
The Capitals were hot early in the season, but have cooled off recently, while the Penguins were bogged down by injuries early on, but getting healthier has made them dangerous. That is to say that both teams have shown this year that they are as serious about contending as ever.
Are the Penguins or the Capitals better positioned to win the Cup?
So far this season, these teams are separated by only four points in the standings. A lot of similar arguments can be made for and against the Pens and Caps, so let’s look at a few key areas of both rosters and compare them head-to-head.
To start, let’s look no further than the two players whose rivalry has dominated NHL headlines for years, captains Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Crosby missed some time early in the season but hasn’t missed a beat since returning, recording 34 points in 30 games. Ovechkin, however, has been on fire since day one, as he’s tied for the league lead in points with 58.
Both captains have been supported by star teammates, and those players would be Evgeni Malkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Oddly enough, both forwards have been limited to ten or fewer games this season, but both are hovering near point-per-game status.
These players are very different stylistically, but this is ultimately a draw. The Malkin/Backstrom parallels put them in similar territory to me this season, and while Ovi has had a better statistical season than Sid, neither one has regressed in any way.
The core forwards are going strong, and as has been the case for years, neither team has a decided advantage here.
Kris Letang and John Carlson are two of the best veteran defensemen in the NHL. Letang is second on the Penguins in points this season (37), while Carlson is third on the Capitals (32). Both players play significant minutes for their clubs and are essential to both the offense and the defense.
As both players are offensive defensemen, and they’re both playing at a high level, this is another category where these teams come out pretty even (it’s no wonder this has been such an entertaining rivalry for so many years).
This is the first place that one team has a clear edge, and it belongs to Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel is an elite goal scorer for the Pens, and in his sixth NHL season, he is leading the Penguins in points.
On the Capitals’ side, Evgeny Kuznetsov is the player that best fits this description, though, at 29-years-old, he doesn’t fit quite as well. Still, his 41 points put him over a point per game on the year and make him a productive complement to the key cogs in Washington.
Having recorded three straight seasons with a point per game, Guentzel has been more consistent than Kuznetsov. Plus, him being younger gives the Pens a better long-term option to build around. Advantage Pittsburgh.
This is perhaps the largest Penguins advantage on the list. Tristan Jarry has bounced back this season in a big way, earning a spot in the All-Star Game. Meanwhile, the tandem in Washington has continued to be good at best.
If Jarry maintains his current form, it will take a lot for the Capitals to draw even (unless Zach Fucale sees more ice time and turns out to be the next Matt Murray/Jordan Binnington). One team has an All-Star, while the other team has two decent-at-best players. Once again, advantage Pittsburgh.
Both clubs boast a Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, but there is one key difference: Mike Sullivan has won with his current team, while Peter Laviolette has not. That takes nothing away from what Laviolette has accomplished, but Sullivan knows how to press the right buttons on his current team, and that is the third advantage for Pittsburgh.
At the end of the day, Pittsburgh has more championship success in general, and in its current form, which makes it more dangerous. With key improvements over last season, I have a higher level of confidence in the Penguins than I do in the Capitals to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup once more, whether it be this season or in the near future.