Penguins Game Day
Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-0) @ Nashville Predators (3-0-2)
When: October 21, 2010 | Where: Bridgestone Arena, 8:00 pm EST
The Pittsburgh Penguins square off with the Nashville Predators tonight in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s the first of a stretch in which the Penguins play seven of eight games away from the CONSOL Energy Center. The Predators, 3-0-2 to begin the season, are one of two teams without a regulation loss and sit second in the Central Division behind the Chicago Blackhawks.
Martin, Pens look to build of last 3 three games
Entering their first week long road trip of the season and on a current three game winning streak, the mood in the locker room over the past couple days has been much different than it was during the Penguins struggles out of the gate.
A catalyst for the Penguins thus far at both ends of the ice has been defenseman Paul Martin who leads the team with 6 assists and is tied for second in points with 7.
Martin leads the Penguins in icetime, averaging 24:20 minutes per game and is a combined +10 with D-partner Kris Letang.
Martin has not only made the Penguins an improved team defensively but he’s also been a calming presence in the locker room.
“I think the team’s playing well, Martin said on Wednesday following practice. “Obviously we can play better in certain areas but we’re starting to get a little crisper on the power play and producing a little more there which helps and a lot of guys are just making plays in certain situations that help you put points on the board.”
“Yeah, I think so, it was a little rougher for a week, but we’re coming around and starting to play better but we know that we can play better and hopefully we can build off of these last three games, ” Martin said.
The Predators start out the season with points in each of their first five games and already in the thick of it in the stacked Western Conference. The Predators seem to be a playoff surprise each spring, but make their way to the dance behind a stout defense.
New Captain Shea Weber and fellow blueliner Ryan Suter make up the Predators’ top defensive pairing and are a combined plus-5 through the first five games this season.
However, Nashville will be without Suter tonight who is their top shutdown defenseman. Suter was injured Tuesday night and will be sidelined for at least a week.
With Suter out, veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon will work with All-Star defenseman Shea Weber in the Predators top defensive pairing.
Nashville is team that finds ways to replace players in their system and this year appears to be no different, despite losing a few vital pieces over the offseason.
Defenseman Dan Hamhuis landed at home in Vancouver (the Penguins sent a draft pick to Philadelphia to acquire his rights before the beginning of free agency). Jason Arnott returned to New Jersey. Goalie Dan Ellis landed in Tampa Bay.
New to the team are forwards Matthew Lombardi (concussion, won’t play) and Sergei Kostitsyn, who spent last season with the Phoenix Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens, respectively.
The Predators come into the contest having lost two straight in overtime, while the Pens are riding three straight wins and have taken four of the last five.
The Predators beat the Pens in their only meeting last season, a 4-3 overtime decision in Pittsburgh. Martin Erat scored the game winner in that meeting.
Pekka Rinne is expected to get the start in net. Rinne is 1-0-1 in two starts this season, losing Tuesday in his return from a minor injury. Rinne boasts a healthy 1.15 GAA and .969 save percentage in those two games.
For the Pens, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to get his first start in over a week. Fleury will look for his first win of the season, watching Brent Johnson collect each of the Pens’ four wins and post impressive numbers in his absence.
Fleury allowed four goals on fourteen shots in his last start, a 4-3 loss to Toronto.
All-time, the Predators are 9-4-0 against the Penguins (and two ties), taking the last two meetings and winning five straight in Nashville.
After a slow start, the Pittsburgh offensive machine is rolling. The Pens have bolstered each of their major statistical categories during the three-game streak, moving to sixth in the NHL in goals per game (3.3) and ninth overall in both goals against (2.3 per game) and power play percentage (20 percent).
Sidney Crosby has been the Pens’ hottest scorer of late, posting three man-advantage goals in two games (tied for the league lead) and is also top-ten in the league in points, goals, shots and faceoff wins. He now leads the team in points (4G, 4A)
Mark Letestu continues his early-season surge, leading all rookies with seven points in seven games (4G, 3A).
Paul Martin (7pts) and Alex Goligoski (7pts) continue chipping in, scoring at a point per game pace. Goligoski has found a niche as the “roamer” on the new-look power play, which has caught fire of late.
Evgeni Malkin (6 pts) and Kris Letang (5 pts) have also contributed to the Pens scoring surge.
For Nashville, center Steve Sullivan leads the team with four goals and one assist, though he has been held pointless in the Predators’ last two games, both losses.
As mentioned, Pekka Rinne will face the Pens boasting a line of 1.15 – .969 while the team has allowed 11 goals in five games, a 1.83 GAA that is fourth in the NHL for a defensive unit.
While the Predators are fourth in goals against per game, their penalty kill has gone sour, stopping less than 70 percent of its chances (28th in the NHL).
The Penguins defense will have an opportunity to showcase themselves as well. The Predators are 18th in the NHL in scoring (2.6 goals per game), and aside from newcomer Patric Hornqvist (30 goals in 2009-10) have traditionally struggled to find offense.
None of the Penguins’ four injured skaters will return for the Nashville game, though all are skating and Brooks Orpik is just days away from returning from a groin injury.
Orpik is targeting a return on Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues.
Predators All-star defenseman Ryan Suter will miss Thursday’s game after suffering a lower-body injury in the first period of Tuesday’s game against Calgary.
Also out for Nashville are centers Marcel Goc (shoulder) and Matthew Lombardi (concussion) and winger Jamie Lundmark (groin).
***Will DePaoli and staff contributor James Conley contributed to this report***