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Insider Only Game Preview: Pens intend to play Malkin at center until Jordan Staal returns

Pittsburgh Penguins (6-5-1) @ Dallas Stars (6-4-0)

When: Wednesday, November 3rd 2010 | Where: American Airlines Arena
DePaoli’s Pre-game Update

Malkin to return to center role for several weeks

*The Penguins coaching staff will end the Evgeni Malkin experiment at wing for the short-term. With Jordan Staal sidelined for another six weeks, Malkin will return to his second line center role and is expected to stay in that spot for several weeks.
Malkin took a few line rushes at center during Tuesday’s practice at Southpointe and Malkin will make his return to center tonight against the Dallas Stars with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on his wing.
*Winger Pascal Dupuis returned home early this morning to be with his wife who went into labor. He will miss tonight’s game.
*Defensemen Kris Letang (wrist) and Alex Goligoski (lower body) will play as both came into the game questionable.
*The Penguins haven’t ruled out dressing seven defenseman tonight but they are not expected to go with 7. Ben Lovejoy will be the odd-man out on the blueline.
Those on the scene say that Brent Johnson will be in goal but of course Dan Bylsma would not confirm. Indications as of Tuesday was that Johnson would start Wednesday and Saturday.

Conley’s Penguins – Stars Preview

PITTSBURGH – 6-5-1 (13 pts.)
3rd Atlantic, 6th East
2-4-0 Home, 4-1-1 Away
35 GF, 28 GA (plus-7)
DALLAS – 6-4-0 (12 pts.)
2nd Pacific, 8th West
3-3-0 Home, 3-1-0 Away
32 GF, 27 GA (plus-5)
The Penguins rank at or near the top-third of the NHL in goals per game (12th at 2.9) goals against (8th at 2.3) and penalty kill success (10th at 84.9). Perhaps most surprising is the penalty kill, which has moved into tenth in the league and made good on 21 of its last 24 assignments.
This comes without the presence of Zbynek Michalek – injured since the Toronto game – and Jordan Staal, the Pens’ top penalty killing forward. No surprise is the power play. At a sputtering 12.9 percent, it ranks 21st in the league.
Dallas sits in the final playoff seat in a tough Western Conference on the strength of a 4-0 start. Dallas is scoring (10th in NHL at 3.0 per game), and the team defense (in goals against per game) is middle of the pack at 14th (2.7).
Dallas has struggled on special teams. Their power play unit is 19th overall (14 percent). The penalty kill is the worst of the worst, 30th in a league of 30. The Stars are killing 68.4 percent of opponents’ power plays – about two out of every three chances against.
Pittsburgh has beaten Dallas in five straight since the 2003-04 season, outscoring the Stars 22-8 in that span.
Despite sharing a pair of four game win streaks, both teams have cooled lately. Dallas is 2-4 in its last six, the Penguins 1-2-1 since winning four straight.

CHANGES

Dallas ended the 2009-10 campaign 12th in the West. The team was mostly quiet in the offseason. GM Joe Nieuwendyk and the tumultuous Dallas ownership offloaded a few old names and placed their bets on youth.
Gone are franchise faces Mike Modano (Detroit) and Marty Turco (Chicago). The team parted ways with its all-time leading scorer Modano, losing the last player to make the move from Minnesota to Dallas in the process. Modano was part of the Minnesota team that lost the Stanley Cup to Mario Lemieux’s 1991 team.
Turco departed for defending champ Chicago, making room for Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen, who impressed the Atlanta Thrashers less as a player than a draft pick, is being counted on the carry the weight in Dallas this year behind a young and sometimes soft defensive unit.

TOP PERFORMERS

For the Penguins, Captain Crosby continues to lead the team in goals (6) assists (9) and points (15). Kris Letang has been Lidstrom-like early on, second to Crosby in assists (8) and points (11). He and Alex Goligoski lead the team at plus-8. Paul Martin is the third of the Penguins high-scoring defensemen, chipping in a goal and 6 assists, even staying a plus-4 while seeing extended time on the penalty kill.
Dallas is getting big production from its forward positions. Brad Richards leads the team in assists (11) and points (14). Brenden Morrow leads in goals scored (6). James Neal, Mike Ribeiro and Loui Eriksson have all scored 9 or more points. Stephane Robidas leads Dallas with 21 PIM and a plus-10 rating.
Ribeiro has 18 career points against Pittsburgh in 15 games. He’s a player to watch tonight.

HAPPY ON THE ROAD

The Penguins have collected 9 of a possible 12 points away from home this season, their latest a 3-0 shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Winning on the road usually calls for a mix of sound fundamental play and stout defense. The Pens got both in the win at Carolina, and should stick to the formula.
Doing so should be made easier behind an 8th-ranked team defense and goaltender Brent Johnson, who has been bested this season only by white-hot Bruins netminder Tim Thomas.
GOALIE THIS, GOALIE THAT
Brent Johnson has earned his starts this season, and is expected to get the nod Wednesday in Dallas and Saturday at Phoenix.
Johnson has been nothing short of awesome for Pittsburgh. His 1.16 GAA and .960 save percentage are second only to Tim Thomas. His 5-0-1 mark has led the Penguins. Of the seven games in which Pittsburgh has collected points, Johnson was the starter in six.
Johnson has not surrendered a regulation goal since a 5-1 win at Philadelphia October 16.
Fleury’s struggles have been well documented. Fans, media and onlookers aside, no one inside the Pens organization has given up on the franchise goalie. Fleury is expected to start Friday’s game at Anaheim.
Kari Lehtonen has started nine of Dallas’ first eleven games, earning a 5-4-0 record (2.93 – .908). Lehtonen is 6-3-2 in his career against Pittsburgh.

SPECIAL TEAMS

There has been nothing special about the Penguins power play. Likewise, Dallas’ penalty killing unit is the worst in the NHL. When a stoppable force meets a movable object, something may happen.
What makes the Penguin power play so unpalatable has been the murderer’s row of stars on the first unit. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby need no mention. On the back end, the Pens boast defensemen Kris Letang (11 points, plus-8) Alex Goligoski (8 points, plus-8) and Paul Martin (7 points, plus-4).
The team has not scored on the man advantage since beating Ottawa 5-2 on October 18th. Since then, the Pens PP unit is 0-22 and without a point in five straight games.
Equally putrid has been the Dallas penalty kill, though the unit lacks the blueline talent to make the 68.4 percent number a real aberration. The Dallas PK has allowed a power play goal in all but 3 games this season.

Penguins Projected Lineup

Kunitz – Crosby – Comrie
Cooke – Malkin – Kennedy
Talbot – Letestu – Asham
Rupp – Adams – Godard
Defensemen
Orpik – Engelland
Martin – Letang
Goligoski – Michalek
Lovejoy (if they go 7)

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