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Offenses laboring as Penguins visit Capitals

WASHINGTON -- When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals meet for the second time this season on Friday night, both will be looking for improvement on offense.

Washington (8-7-1) comes in with a struggling power play, while Pittsburgh (9-6-2) is having trouble scoring without the man advantage.

The Penguins have the league's third-best power play, cashing in on 27.7 percent of their chances. However, they have been outscored 44-21 during 5-on-5 action.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby hasn't scored a goal in nine games and defenseman Kris Letang has only one goal all season. Newcomer Riley Sheahan has one assist in eight games with the Penguins.

"Yes, it does," Crosby told reporters Thursday when asked if it feels like it's been awhile since he scored. "Usually that means you're close to putting on in, so hopefully that's a good sign for me. Yeah, there's been some chances there, some posts, things like that, but still like to generate a little bit more."

In Tuesday's game, head coach Mike Sullivan reunited former linemates Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and the pair sparked a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at PPG Paints Arena with a goal and two assists each.

The Capitals won three straight before losing Tuesday at Buffalo in the second of a back-to-back. Washington is tied for 16th in league on the power play with an 18 percent success rate.

In addition, while Alex Ovechkin has 13 goals in 16 games playing on the second line, top-line forwards Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie -- while doing solid defensive work against the opponent's top line -- are not scoring.

Oshie has one goal in his last eight games and Backstrom hasn't recorded a point in his last seven.

"Trust me, if there's one player I don't have to worry a whole heck of a lot about, it's Nick Backstrom," coach Barry Trotz told the Washington Post. "Nick Backstrom brings a pretty good game every night, and I don't judge his game on goals and assists. He's probably the last player I have to worry about."

On a positive note, Washington is close to getting some of its injured players back. Defenseman Matt Niskanen (left hand) and forwards Tyler Graovac (upper body) and Brett Connolly (concussion) skated on Wednesday, with Connolly likely the closest to returning.

"I'm pretty close, think I'm day-to-day. Note sure about tomorrow, but I'm thinking (the game) after that," Connolly said. "I felt good today. It was good to get out there with the guys and work on my game again."

In the teams' first meeting, in October at Capital One Arena, Patric Hornqvist notched a goal and an assist, Matt Murray stopped 20 shots and the Penguins won 3-2.

Letang and Conor Sheary also scored for Pittsburgh. Ovechkin and Christian Djoos scored for Washington and Braden Holtby made 33 saves.

Hornqvist also scored in Pittsburgh's 2-0 Game 7 win in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Washington.

"We have a lot of good memories there," Hornqvist told the team website. "It's always a good matchup playing them so we're excited."

Crosby has 20 goals and 41 assists in 42 career games against the Capitals while Malkin has 16 and 35 in 37 games.

Ovechkin has scored 31 goals and added 21 assists in 49 games versus Pittsburgh. Backstrom has seven goals and 39 assists in 39 games.

Neither expected starting goalie has dominated in this matchup. Holtby is 7-8-2 with a 2.79 goals-against average, while Murray is 3-2 with a 3.88 GAA.

Updated November 9, 2017

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