Updated: 4:45 p.m. – Simon Despres, the Penguins 1st round pick in 2009, has been recalled for tonight’s game, the team announced. Defenseman Paul Martin is dealing with an illness and unlikely to play. He hasn’t skated in two days.
Despres, 20, played in 13 games with the Penguins during his first stint earlier this season. He made his debut against the Capitals on Dec 1 and performed very well in his final handful of games, collecting a goal, three assists and four points. Despres posted a plus-4 rating and saw top-4 minutes at times, averaging 15:27 minutes per game.
Despres was named to the AHL All-Star team last week.
Lineup News: The Penguins used the following top-4 lines in their morning skate:
Kunitz – Malkin – Neal
Tangradi – Dupuis – Kennedy
Sullivan – Park – Cooke
Asham – Vitale – Adams
Extras: MacIntyre, McDonald, Jeffrey
*Winger Dustin Jeffrey has been cleared to return to the lineup and as of this morning was regarded as a coaches decision. Jeffrey though is on injured reserve and would have to be taken off IR by 5:00 p.m. tonight. The Penguins currently have 14 forwards, 7 defensemen (counting Despres, if he doesn’t count as emergency callup) and 2 goaltenders on their active roster. Jeffrey, Letang, Staal and Crosby on injured reserve.
Neal has bone bruise: James Neal stepping on the ice today was a big surprise, but after an initial diagnoses of a broken foot, all Neal has is a bone bruise.
“The first preliminary tests done after the game indicated a fracture in his navicular area, a tough bone and tough place to heal, so further tests, an MRI done yesterday showed that he had a pre existing condition, possibly having done it as a small kid. Showed up as a crack on the X-Ray but MRI showed it’s not a break. He does have a bone bruise on that particular spot and itâs a play as pain permits injury for James right now.
To sum things up: Neal has nothing more than a bone bruise and it was pretty much realized after he took his boot off yesterday when Neal was likely wondering what’s going on as he could move around fine. A pre-existing condition led to an inaccuracy on the initial x-ray.
“Just a bone bruise, he should be healing as days go by, ” Bylsma said. Neal is pointless in his last four games.
AUDIO LINK: James Neal on playing tonight vs Senators
The Penguins have lost four straight and have been plagued by many issues, including subpar goaltending, mental mistakes and most notably the inability to score goals.
Pittsburgh has scored 5 goals in their last four games, averaging 1.25 goals per game.
Tonight marks the first game since Brooks Orpik, a leader in the locker room, called out his team about the need to become accountable for their actions. “The accountability in this room has to be a lot better,” Orpik said. “We aren’t reacting to adversity very well right now. You can’t feel sorry for yourselves.”
Few could have imagined the Ottawa Senators (22-15-6, 50pts) having 50 points at the midpoint of the season. The surging Senators have been a tough team to play against with skill and feistiness mixed in their lineup.
Ottawa obviously, 50 pts, they have not lost in their last five, 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, ” Bylsma said. “Playing very well and with a little bit of swagger, that’s for sure in their game. Spezza with his season has been outstanding. Their defense, Karlsson has been outstanding, real factor in games. Sergei Gonchar, 23 points with his 21 assists. Getting contributions with everybody and everywhere. We know we have a test against them. They’re four points ahead of us in the standings and chance for us to square up against them tonight.”
They are currently 5th in the Eastern Conference, while the Penguins sit in 8th place, four points behind the Senators who have played in two more games than the Penguins this season.
Ottawa is averaging 3.05 goals per game and are led offensively by Jason Spezza who’s playing his best hockey in years with 42 points and Milan Michalek who leads the team with 20 goals.
Ottawa creates a ton of offense from their backend with emerging star Erik Karlsson leading the team wth 35 assists and second in points with 41. Sergei Gonchar is an even on the season and has been good of late with 21 assists and 23 points on the season.
Ottawa has scored 4 goals or more in six of their last eleven games.
The Senators though are still a team that can be exploited defensively. They have a group of defenseman you can punish on the forecheck and that donât liked to be checked. Thatâs an area the Penguins have to exploit tonight.
Overall, the Senators give up 3.28 goals against per game, 28th in NHL, and rank 24th in the NHL on the PK at 79.8%. Pittsburgh has the second best penalty kill at home, 90.7%. Like Pittsburgh, Ottawa is also prone to giving up shorthanded goals, tied for the worst mark in the league with 5 shorthanded goals allowed. Pittsburgh has given up shorthanded goals in back-to-back games.
In the midst of a four game losing streak, Pittsburgh sends Brent Johnson between the pipes up against Ottawa’s Craig Anderson who’s playing excellent hockey of late. Anderson who was the named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday, is 20-12-4 on the season with a 3.13 GAA and .902 save percentage. Anderson’s win total ranks him in a tie for second in the league with Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, and behind league leader Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings (24).
Anderson has posted a 3-0-1 record with a 2.41 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in his last four starts. He is riding a personal best 5-0-1 streak.
Meanwhile, Johnson makes his first start in almost a month. He last played on Dec 16th, a 6-4 loss to the Senators where Johnson was pulled after giving up 5 goals on 19 shots. He is 2-4-2 on the season with a 3.24 GAA and .885 save percentage. The Penguins have seen Johnson’s play on the decline this season.
The soon to be 35 year old has not had a goal against average mark over 2.82 or a save percentage under .900 since the 2006-2007 season when he posted a 3.61 goals against average and .889 save percentage.