The Pittsburgh Penguins are back at it tonight at the Consol Energy Center. They play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7PM. I view this game as pivotal for the Pens. Coming off a humiliating 3rd period against Boston on Wednesday, have the Penguins had enough? Do they have the desire, passion, and heart to bounce back? Is this really a mediocre team or is it a top tier hockey club? Can they make the effort last 60 minutes? I think some of these questions will be answered tonight. How the Penguins bounce back will shed some light on the make up of this team. This is as close as it comes to must win at this point of the season.
Tampa comes into the game with an 8-5-2 record which places them 2nd place in the Southeast division and 4th in the Eastern conference. They are playing their 2nd game in as many nights, coming off a loss to Washington last night, 6-3. Led by sniper and NHL goals and points leader, Steven Stamkos, the Lightning are 8th in the league in goals per game with 3.1 while they are 5th with a 23.8% power play. They do give up some goals, at 3.0 per game(20th in league) but have the 4th best penalty kill at 89.2%.
The Penguins loss Wednesday has dropped them to 7-8-1 which is 3rd in the Atlantic division and 10th in the conference. They are 12th in the league with 2.9 goals per game and 19th with a 14.3% power play. They are giving up 2.9 goals per game(18th in league) and have a 86.6% penalty kill, good for 8th in the league.
These teams last played October 27 with Tampa Bay winning 5-3. The Penguins scored 2 shorthanded goals on the same power play in that game only to be watch their lead evaporate led by Penguin killer Martin St Louis' 2 goals and an assist. Although I dont like to see injuries, the Pens are catching a break as another Penguin killer, Vincent Lecavalier broke his hand in last nights game. He will be out 3-4 weeks.
Although goalies for both teams have not been confirmed, it looks likely that Fleury will start for Pittsburgh while Dan Ellis will go for Tampa Bay. Lets take a look at the Pros and Cons for tonight.
- The Penguins have a lot of issues. They are coming off a humiliating loss that showed off their many problems. If this team has any will, I expect them to come out flying. They have a lot to prove and if they can channel that energy, they may just be good enough to pull out a win
- Vincent Lecavalier is out with a broken hand. This is good news for the Pens. Lecavalier has 39 points in 44 career games vs the Pens. This includes 25 goals. Now if they can just figure out a way to stop Martin St Louis!
- As mentioned, the Penguins have a lot of issues. Questions surround this team. Can Fleury, if he starts, put together a solid start for the 1st time this season? Will the defense play smarter and not allow too many odd man breaks? Will the power play be able to score against one of the better penalty kills? Will the Penguins put together 60 minutes of effort? These are all legitimate questions that will be answered tonight.
- Martin St. Louis has averaged a point a game against the Pens in 38 games including 16 goals. The Pens gotta keep an eye on this guy. At 35, this guy still has speed and knows how to use it. He's a crafty player and has a knack for finding open ice.
- The Pens held Steven Stamkos without a goal in the last meeting but he did register 3 assists. He is the real deal and has a lethal shot. He is a force anytime he is on the ice.
It doesnt get any easier for the Pens. This will be a tough matchup. I expect the Penguins to come out trying to prove a point. Hopefully they dont get caught up in that too much as Tampa Bay has the talent to exploit mistakes. It's probably an overused cliche, but the Penguins need to simplify their game and play smart hockey. If they can do this, they have the talent to win. If not, it may be another long night.
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