Pittsburgh (29-18-1 – 59 pts) @ Edmonton (16-24-5 – 37 pts)
Pittsburgh heads to Edmonton for what will be the only matchup between these two teams this season. The Penguins beat the Oilers 5-4 at Mellon Arena last year. Pittsburgh did not hold a morning skate but there is expected to be one lineup changes tonight.
Winger Luca Caputi has been informed that he will participate in warmups, an indication that he will return to the lineup. Caputi will likely replace Eric Godard in the lineup. Sources tell me Godard is going to be phased out of the lineup more often as Godard took yet another bad penalty in his limited ice time last night (2:38 TOI).
Defenseman Brooks Orpik (knee) and Brent Johnson (lower body) will each miss their third straight game.
Penguins @ Oilers Preview
By James Conley — Staff
Dupuis – Crosby – Guerin
Talbot – Malkin – Fedotenko
Cooke – Staal – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Caputi/Godard
Eaton – Gonchar
McKee – Lovejoy
*Goaltender Marc Andre Fleury is a game time decision
Scratches: Brent Johnson (lower body), Brooks Orpik (knee), Martin Skoula,
Edmonton has taken a steep dive to the basement of the Western Conference, eight points behind their nearest conference competitor Columbus and only two points ahead of Carolina for league’s worst team.
All this just a few years removed from a Stanley Cup finals appearance. Since the 05-06 season, Edmonton has been a victim of bad spending and bad luck in players not wanting to play in Edmonton, losing top talent like Chris Pronger.
Long-time coach Craig MacTavish was let go of this season in response to their struggles. Veteran boss Pat Quinn was brought in to replace him, with little luck so far. Edmonton has won one regulation game in their last 10.
Two offseason acquisitions, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and forward Mike Comrie, were veterans expected to guide a young Edmonton team. Khabibulin is now out, potentially for the season, after back surgery. Mononucleosis has kept Comrie on the shelf since November.
Ales Hemsky, too, is done for the season. Edmonton’s best scorer was put on injured reserve after having shoulder surgery.
Edmonton will rely on power forward Dustin Penner (21G, 20A) for their scoring tonight.
One question brought up after the game last night was whether the Penguins were a team who had lost seven of their last ten, or had won three of their last four games.
Pittsburgh has a wide-open shot at making it four of five tonight against an injury-riddled and ice-cold Edmonton team.
Last night’s win was perhaps the most complete and confidence-inspiring game the Penguins have played since entering their weeks-long drought. They beat a very good, defensively stout Calgary team with solid defense, dependable goaltending, shots on goal and a stellar penalty kill.
Evgeni Malkin looks like he’s finally breaking out of his own slump, at least for one night he did. He didn’t score last night, but he skated with authority, entered the zone strong and took good shots. Perhaps tonight he will do so without committing another minor penalty. Malkin is third on the team with 54 PIM.
A better sign was Fleury’s strong performance in goal who made 37 saves on 38 shots against the Flames. Fleury’s 24 wins are third most in the NHL.
Crosby scored another highlight goal last night, splitting the defense and driving the net, just a few minutes into the game. He’s got 30 goals in 47 games, on pace for 50 or more by season’s end. He should no doubt be in the running for MVP as well, as his consistent play is one of the few things to hold steady during recent weeks.
Maybe the most promising sight from the Calgary game was the work of the power play. They went 1-5 against an eighth-ranked Flames PK.
The new lineup – putting Malkin on the wall and placing Crosby as the down-low net presence – seemed to work.
The unit moved like they haven’t all year, got pucks to the net, created a mess of net-mouth traffic and relied on Sergei Gonchar’s rocket-laser slap shot to start the scramble. It was one of those rare instances where the power play secured the game winning goal, rather than potentially losing the game by going dry.
Injury News, Insider Notes
*John Curry has been told he will remain with the team until the end of the Penguins road trip. Brent Johnson will not be cleared to suit up until next week at the earliest.
*Brooks Orpik is hopeful to practice on Friday but won’t be cleared to play at any point during the rest of the road trip.
*There has been talk that Ben Lovejoy is getting a strong look to remain with the team. For that to happen, Pittsburgh needs to clear a roster spot.