Penguins

Guest Preview: Pens’ Final Six Begins Tonight vs. Lightning

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Rollins Hits Pittsburgh Tonight

I am not able to attend this evening’s game against the Lightning, as I will be checking out one of my all-time favorites – Henry Rollins. Rollins is bringing his spoken word tour through Pittsburgh and though I have seen and heard it on CD/DVD over the years, I have never seen him do it in person. It Couldn’t be missed…

Anyway, since I am taking the evening off, our good friend Angela Carducci, who covers the Penguins and NHL for Inside Hockey, was gracious enough to do tonight’s game preview.

Angela has contibuted to multiple outlets over her years covering the team including the great Goal Magazine! She has a regular segment on Team 990 in Montreal on Saturday evenings during the hockey season and covers the Pens for Fox Sports online during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can catch up on Angela’s every day gig at Inside Hockey here…

Angie Carducci’s page over at Inside Hockey

Pens’ Final Six Begins Tonight vs. Lightning

The Penguins are coming off a successful weekend where they took four of four possible points from the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs. For a team that’s struggled with consistency for much of the season, that’s something to build on as Pittsburgh hopes to get on a roll heading into the playoffs.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, tonight’s visit to Mellon Arena is the last in a four-game road trip that started on a high note with a 5-3 win in Boston, then saw the Bolts end up on the wrong end of a 7-1 blowout in Buffalo. The frustration continued for the Lightning last night, when they were edged out in Columbus, 3-2.

That means Pittsburgh will have a potentially tired opponent on its hands tonight, not to mention one that’s likely looking forward to getting back home after nearly a week on the road. But the Penguins can’t afford to look past the Lightning, even if they are 10 points out of a playoff spot and 3-7 in their last 10. Nor can they afford to look past the other teams below them in the standings, the Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders, both of whom the Penguins play twice in this final six-game stretch of the regular season.

“I think you can look up and down the lineups, and these are some of the teams that are going to be the hardest teams to play against,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “There are young guys who are getting called up, they’re full of energy and they’re trying to make a good first impression. Those are teams that can be really dangerous at the end of the year.”

The Lightning won’t be making the postseason this year, but, like many non-playoff teams, they would surely relish the role of spoiler. That especially figures to be true for former Penguins Ryan Malone – the Upper St. Clair native and second-generation Penguin who had the misfortune of entering unrestricted free agency at the same time as Pittsburgh needed to place a priority on trying to resign Marian Hossa – and Rick Tocchet, whose hard-nosed coaching style recalls his days as a player. (That’s assuming Malone is able to return tonight; he’s missed 10 games since having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.)

The Penguins officially clinched their playoff spot over the weekend, but there’s much more to play for. That includes first place in the Atlantic Division, a spot for which they’ve been playing leapfrog with the New Jersey Devils for the better part of the season; the winner of that battle will likely finish second in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey lost to the Bruins in overtime last night, putting them one point behind the Penguins.

More importantly, though, Pittsburgh needs to string together some wins to enter the playoffs with confidence. They won’t be going in on an 18-3-4 tear like they did last year, but just knowing that they’ve consistently found a way to get to their game – playing an aggressive style, managing the puck well, wearing opponents down with their speed – would go a long way.

Matt Cooke smiles during an earlier practice this season (photo by Laynie Tell)

“I think that you want to be at the height of your game,” said winger Matt Cooke. “Last year, our game got to such a level the last 25 games that we felt so confident going into the playoffs. I think we’re still pushing to get there.”

Game Notes

The Penguins lead this year’s season series with the Lightning, 2-1.

Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar determined at the morning skate that he isn’t yet ready to return; he’ll miss his fourth consecutive game due to a bout with strep throat. Evgeni Malkin will also miss his seventh game of the last eight with a foot injury. Geno resumed practicing Tuesday, along with Gonchar, but coach Dan Bylsma is in no hurry to rush him back into the lineup and would prefer to make sure his star center is fully healed for the postseason.

Offensive-minded defenseman Kris Letang has been inconsistent for much of the season, but seemed to rise to the challenge as he took on increased playing time with Gonchar out for the past several games. The Penguins expect Letang to play inspired hockey down the stretch after locking in his future in Pittsburgh with the four-year, $14 million contract extension he signed Tuesday.

Cooke has had two goals in his last two games, and Pittsburgh’s trade-deadline acquisitions are paying dividends as winger Alex Ponikarovsky and d’man Jordan Leopold both have three assists in their last three games. Captain Sidney Crosby is on a point streak with two goals and four assists for six points in his last three games. And winger Ruslan Fedotenko, who’s struggled at times this year, is on a mini-hot streak with five points (2G, 3A) in his last six games.

For the second time in less than a week, Tampa played with just five defensemen Tuesday. Already missing blueliners David Hale and Matt Smaby, the Lightning’s situation took a turn for the worse in Columbus as they also lost rookie d’man Victor Hedman to a lower body injury.

The Bolts will surely be glad to see the month of March come to a close. It’s been brutal for them, with a record of 4-10-1 plummeting them to second-last in the Eastern Conference standings. The Penguins, meanwhile, continue their trend of dominance at home down the stretch. They’re 5-0-1 at Mellon Arena this March, and a combined 30-2-3 at home in March and April since the 2006-07 season.

Watch out for Tampa’s power play. With a 19.3 percent conversion rate, it’s 7th best on the road, 9th overall in the NHL. If Pittsburgh can goad the Lightning into penalties, however, the odds are on their side as Tampa’s power play is the league’s fifth-worst on the road, 21st overall. And the Lightning are apt to spend a lot of time in the box – they’re tied for third-most penalty minutes in the league.

The Penguins’ penalty killing has been excellent lately, killing off 42 of its last 45 times shorthanded (93.3 percent), including a stretch of 34 straight. It’s allowed only one power-play goal in the last nine games. The much-maligned power play has also been a little more consistent, scoring at least one goal in 10 of the last 16 games, going 11 for 53 (20.8 percent).

Vinnie Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos lead the Lightning with three points each in the three games against the Penguins so far. Three other players – Tampa point leader Martin St. Louis, Steve Downie and Mattias Ohlund – are tied with two points apiece.

For the Penguins, Gonchar and Crosby have three points against the Lightning so far this year; Gonchar has the game-winning goals in both Pittsburgh wins. Pascal Dupuis, Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal each have two points.

Penguins Career Milestones Within Reach Tonight

After racking up two goals against Toronto Sunday, Crosby sits at a league-leading 47. With three more, Crosby would become the first Penguin to reach 50 since Jaromir Jagr scored 52 in 2000-01.

Cooke has tied his single-season career high with 15 goals; he’s now one point shy of his fifth 30-point season.

If defenseman Jay McKee is in the Penguins’ lineup tonight, it will be the 800th game of his NHL career.

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About Brian Metzer

Profile photo of Brian Metzer

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Brian Metzer has been covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and National Hockey League since 2004. He is the host of Penguins Live Weekly, a show that airs Saturday mornings on 105.9 the X and iHeart Radio. He serves as the Pittsburgh Penguins correspondent for NHL Network Radio on SiriusXM, and is the NHL and Penguins correspondent for the Beaver County Times. Metzer is also a contributing writer for NHL.com and is the primary contributor for this site www.fromthepoint.com.

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9 Comments

  1. Walshy

    March 31, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    I get on to check the damn scores and its 2 zip Tampa, I mean come on……

  2. Walshy

    March 31, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    on 9 shots!!! grrr

  3. Evilpens

    March 31, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    This team is TOAST!!! It doesn’t matter where the finish they will get beat in the 1st Round!!

    All you Ray Shero Kool-Aid drinkers keep repeating his mantra & wet Dream We have the combination of the 3 best Centers in the League !!

    YEP & the Defensmen & Wingers Suck OUTLOUD !!!

  4. Evilpens

    March 31, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Mock if you want, but this is a troubling loss. This could have easily been 5-0 if Tampa finished on some glorious chances and Fleury wasn’t sharp. The Pens had a chance to take two big steps closer to a division title against a floundering team that is terrible on the road and they laid this egg. You can only rationalize that they’ll turn it on for the playoffs for so long. The fact is, during the stretch run the last two years, they didn’t look like this. It’s not just this game. Aside from the first four games after the Olympic break, they haven’t been sharp in March. This team commits too many defensive breakdowns, they lack focus too often, and they have no killer instinct. It’s been this way all season. It’s not getting better. This is not a good sign.

  5. Evilpens

    March 31, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Lightning had lost 14 of 18 games

  6. Jay

    April 1, 2010 at 5:41 am

    I really, REALLY hate the Orpik-Letang pairing.

    Bad loss at a time the Pens should be gearing up for the playoffs.

  7. Gunner Staal

    April 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    All of the talk about Letang and Goligoski not doing well on the PP got me thinking.

    Why cant Crosby QB the PP up top when Gonchar is missing? Not necessarily the breakout portion but when we are set up. Malkin can play Sid’s normal spot when he is healthy. Letang can play to the left of Crosby, and be guaranteed great passes. Get Staal in front with whomever else you want.

    Perhaps that is a setup for the future if Gonchar leaves.

    Cant hurt to try right?

  8. Evilpens

    April 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Staal is terrible in front of the net !! That’s why they traded for Poni !!

    The Problem is you Have 2 RH shots on the PP who are WORTHLESS !! Guerin is a Cadaver who whiffs on shots constantly & Letang who couldn’t put a shot on net if his life depended on it & also can’t 1 time a puck

    Sid at the point would be a Cluster**** he overpasses from the RW boards Now !! After Gonch is gone in the Off season Geno is going to Have to Play the Point & let Lovejoy play the other point He Consistently gets shots on the net

  9. Gunner Staal

    April 2, 2010 at 10:26 am

    EvilPens,

    You are going to have to remind me when Jordan Staal has gotten an honest look in front of the net on the PP. I dont believe that it has happened.