Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin meet tonight as the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins. Will the two biggest names in hockey today be able to shake off the cobwebs and return to their scoring ways?

Firing head coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t have the desired impact in his first game off the job. The Washington Capitals lost their debut under new head coach Dale Hunter 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues, but they’ll try for a better result on Thursday when they face their rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Both teams have superstar weapons but the luster has worn off of the head-to-head battles between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin mostly because Ovechkin’s offensive game has tailed off and Crosby has been out for a really long time.

The Caps have just three wins in their last nine and are fading quickly in the Eastern Conference standings. The preseason Stanley Cup aspirations are also quickly dissipating but a win over the East-leading Penguins could change everything in a heartbeat. 

Thursday, November 30th

The sportsbooks are at a standstill here, as the NHL odds boards are offering this game at a pick em with both teams listed at -110. With Ovechkin's recent offensive slump and a rusty Crosby on the ice, many might be intimidated by placing any NHL picks on the 5.5 total, as each of these players is capable of running up the score.

Lets decide where the smartest NHL betting options lie.

The Pittsburgh Penguins can win because… 

Sidney CrosbyThe Capitals haven’t had a chance to adjust to their new head coach. In theory, firing a head coach should provide a spark in intensity but in reality, the Capitals have had just three days to work with their new strategist and that’s not enough to turn around the wayward ship. 

The Caps have lost nine of their last 12 games and they’ve looked listless throughout most of those contests. Dale Hunter will eventually whip them into shape but judging by their 2-1 loss at home to the Blues in his debut, those motivational speeches might take some time. 

Meanwhile, the Penguins are the top team in the East and they aren’t going to be an easy out on any night. They are coming off a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers but it was really one bad spell of play at the end of the second period that did them in. Otherwise, they dominated the game.

The Pens have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal all healthy for the first time in a long time and that’s as scary a trio of centers as you’ll find. Once they start to click, the Pens could have a cakewalk to winning the Presidents’ Trophy. 

Pittsburgh just needs to clean up the penalties and defensive malfunctions that haunted them against New York and they’ll be in great shape to win this contest. 

The Washington Capitals can win because… 

The Pens are not the same team on the road. 

Alex OvechkinPittsburgh has lost just once in regulation at home this season but it’s been a different story on the road. The Pens are just 6-6-2 on the road and the challenge will be much tougher on Thursday as they’ll again be without their top two defensemen. Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek are both out, which means the Caps forwards should have an easier time of things. 

The difference for Pittsburgh has been that they allow just two goals per game at home, which ties them for the fourth-best number in the NHL. But that average jumps up to 2.79 when they are on the road, which ranks them 17th in the league. The Caps are similar as their goal differential is a +0.58 at home and -1.0 on the road. 

A key to this contest should be the fact that the Capitals have had a day off to prepare with their new head coach. The news of Boudreau being fired broke on Monday afternoon and the Caps played Tuesday. Wednesday was their first full day off with Hunter and his influence should be noticed a little more in this contest. 

Outlook & NHL Betting Prediction: 

The Capitals have owned this series over the last few years and while most of the signs here point to betting Pittsburgh – given the trends of the two teams heading into this game – this might be the right spot to take Washington. 

Washington has won eight of nine meetings between the teams and they are still 8-4 at home with a total of 5.5. Meanwhile, the Penguins are just 3-7 when on the road facing that same total. 

Look for the Caps to be fired up as they host the top team in the East and reward their head coach with his first win behind the bench. 

NHL Picks: Capitals