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Caps-Pens rivalry minus key players Wed. night

Wednesday - 1/11/2012, 2:12pm  ET

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Capitals begin a four-game homestand tonight at Verizon Center when they meet the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third time this season.

The teams have split their first two meetings, with the Caps winning 3-2 in overtime in Pittsburgh Oct. 13 and the Pens returning the favor with a 2-1 win in Washington Dec. 1.

While the Caps and Pens have produced one of the NHL's premier rivalries since the 2005 work stoppage, tonight's game could be missing some of its usual luster.

The Caps return to D.C. following an 0-2 western road trip in which they were outscored 10-4, while the Penguins are just beginning a three-game road trip as they look to snap a season-long five-game losing streak.

"They're hungry," Caps head coach Dale Hunter said of the Penguins. "Everybody goes that way. But they'll be ready to play, just like us."

Like the Capitals, the Penguins are a banged-up bunch. Pittsburgh leads the NHL with 215 man games lost and the Pens will again be without captain Sidney Crosby (concussion), No.1 defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and forwards Jordan Staal (knee) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee).

The Capitals, meanwhile, will again be without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom (head) and No.1 defenseman Mike Green (groin). Backstrom was placed on injured reserve today and will miss his third straight game after taking an elbow to the head last Tuesday from Calgary's Rene Bourque.

Green left Saturday's game in San Jose after aggravating his previously injured groin. The 26-year-old has missed 24 of the past 26 games and 30 of the last of 32 overall.

Hunter said there is no timetable for either Backstrom or Green to return.

Catch the Capitals and Penguins tonight at 7:40. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)