Hornqvist was only the start. 'I'll be hitting a few more Penguins,' Lars Eller assures

Chris Lingebach
February 04, 2020 - 7:47 pm

Coming off of one of his most dominant games of the season, Capitals center Lars Eller – after scoring two goals in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Penguins – doesn't anticipate making any new fans in Pittsburgh.

Eller drew the ire of Pens fans after crushing Patric Hornqvist into the boards in the first period, which earned him a trip to the penalty box for interference. The violent collision sent Hornqvist crumbling to the ice.

"Losing to that team always stings a little more than losing to most other teams," Eller told The Sports Junkies during his weekly appearance, driven by AAA.

It was the first of four regular-season meetings between the Caps and Pens, as the NHL looks to save more historic rivalries for later in the season, when they matter more, and the 50th incarnation featuring Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Eller's second goal brought Washington within one goal with just 2:18 remaining in regulation, but the Caps were unable to finish off yet another signature comeback win.

"We didn't leave the rink with a good feeling that day, but the good thing is we have three more games against them here before the season's over," Eller said. "We'll build up some motivation for the next time we meet 'em for sure. Of course our line had a pretty good game and contributed with two goals, which of course felt good for us to do something good there. But it just wasn't enough this Sunday."

"I think pretty similar," he said when asked how the 2019-20 Penguins roster stacks up against Pittsburgh teams in the past. "They might have some players here and there that are new, but their best players are still their best players. It's still Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Kris) Letang and those guys are driving their team, like it is for us with Ovi and Backy and so on.

"In that regard, I think it's really the same, which also makes it the same rivalry that it's been for like a decade now. Things are just the same way they've been for a while: teams still don't like each other. But those are some of the most fun games to play, I think. Personally, I love playing those games."

Addressing his hit on Hornqvist, Eller started cracking up when Junkies host John Auville took the novel interview approach of reading him tweets sent by angry Penguins fans.

"I put your name in the search bar on Twitter and a lot of responses from Penguins Twitter that are not happy with you after your hit on Patric Hornqvist, which you took a penalty on," Auville said. "By the way, I would love for you to hit him more, hit him at every turn possible. But here is just a sampling of some tweets from Pittsburgh fans after that hit: 'Lars Eller is a POS. Lars Eller is a dirty blanking piece of blank. F Lars Eller (multiple of those). Lars Eller is a slimy creep. Lars Eller is softer than baby poo.'

"I can understand why you haven't tweeted since like mid-January, Lars. Twitter is just a cesspool."

"Yeah. I don't recommend anybody go on Twitter," Eller said. "If you're gonna get an unbiased opinion about anything, that's probably not the way to go."

"But that just comes with this rivalry," he said. "There's emotional players and fans on both sides of the aisle I think, which just makes it that much more special and that's how it should be. But like I said, we've got some more games and I'll be hitting a few more Penguins players along the way, so I don't expect them to like me any more at the end of the season than they do right now."

"Your guy Willy, he was hitting everything that moved on Sunday," Auville observed. "A career-high 13 hits against the Pens. He's tied for fourth in the NHL with a 185 hits this season. I just can only imagine how much it hurts when Tom Wilson crunches you into the boards."

"Yeah, it's like running into a brick wall," said Eller. "Him and Ovi are some of the hardest hitters I've seen, and I played against them too, years ago when I played for Montreal, so I know how it feels to run into them. Especially Ovi. So you try to really avoid that. After you've felt it once or twice, you do your best to stay out of the way."

"It's also investing for a potential playoff series down the road," he said. "Tom's a pretty unique player that way, that he can contribute offensively, score goals, but also be one of the most physical players, and I think guys fear him a little bit sometimes, which is, we're lucky to have him on our team."

The next installment of Caps-Pens is slated for Sunday, Feb. 23.