Penguins Game Day
When: November 5, 2010 | Where: Honda Center
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS ANAHEIM DUCKS
Inconsistency has marred the Penguins this season and left them treading the .500 waters 13 games into their schedule.
Anaheim has suffered an exodus of blueliners in recent years and the once defensively-stout team is allowing 3.3 goals per game, fifth-worst in the NHL. Pittsburgh faces Anaheim tonight in their second of a three game Western Conference swing. The game will be broadcast at 10:00 PM in Pittsburgh.
Mornin Skate Update: Malkin to center Cooke & Kennedy
Evgeni Malkin’s return to the center position did not work out well in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss. Malkin was pointless and a team-worst minus-3 rating.
Malkin though will remain at the center position for several more weeks with Jordan Staal out indefinitely.
I’m told from a contact that based on the morning skate, Malkin will open up the game centering Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on the second line.
*Pascal Dupuis is back in the lineup and will be up on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
*I’m told Eric Godard took a regular line rush on the 4th line with Mike Rupp and Craig Adams. It has been expected that Godard would stay in lineup tonight as Ducks enforcer George Parros is scheduled to play.
Mike Comrie will be a healthy scratch, if the staff opts to play Godard. Both are expected to participate in warmups.
Marc Andre Fleury will start in goal.
Pittsburgh is 1-3-1 in its last five. Anaheim was won two of its last five, their latest a 3-2 overtime winner against Tampa Bay.
Overall, the Penguins have dropped to third in the Atlantic, four points behind Philadelphia (6-6-1 overall). Anaheim, after starting the season 1-3-1, still find themselves last in the Pacific Division with 11 points (5-7-1).
Statistically, Anaheim is in the bottom third of the league in a number of categories, while the Penguins did themselves no favors (except PIM) with Wednesday’s 5-2 implosion in Dallas.
Anaheim is struggling on both sides of the puck. The Ducks are 21st in goals per game (2.5), 22nd on the penalty kill (80.3 percent) and 25th in goals allowed (3.3 per game). They have the league’s 6th-ranked power play unit (23.4 percent) on the strength of forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.
The Penguins are underperforming offensively, having dropped to 14th in goals per game (2.8).
Dan Bylsma needs to discover the hockey equivalent of DEFCON 5 and start ringing the alarm for his power play. The unit has dropped to 26th in the league, connecting on 12.1 percent of its chances. Pittsburgh has been blanked on 27 straight chances, and has not scored since the 5-2 win over Ottawa on October 18th – over two weeks without a point.
Dallas aside, the Penguins defensive unit is performing well. The Penguins are 12th overall in goals against (2.5 per game) and are 9th on the penalty kill (86.2 percent), in spite of the absences of Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek.
The defense is allowing 27.08 shots per game (the offense gathers 30.54 per game, for comparison), and has allowed only 8 power play goals this season.
ARE WE DONE NOW?
For the first time this season, the Penguins played an undisciplined, poorly strategized game with little energy and no focus in front of goaltender Brent Johnson.
The Penguins have played similarly poorly in nearly all of Marc-Andre Fleury’s losses.
The showing should quell some concerns about Fleury’s game. No goaltender should be expected to overcome the lackluster efforts of the team in front of him. At least not on the order of the game the Penguins played Wednesday in Dallas.
Fleury will get the start Friday. He has won each of his four career starts against the Ducks, including two wins last season with a combined .907 save percentage.
A win would be his 150th, making him the seventh-youngest goaltender to reach the number.
For the Ducks, Jonas Hiller has played reasonably well, given the lack of support in front of him. Hiller is 4-5-1 with a 2.99 GAA and .941 save percentage.
Hiller’s .941 save percentage is impressive. The Ducks have allowed over 38 shots on goal per game this season, the worst such number in the NHL.
Backup Curtis McElhinney is 1-2 in four appearances (3.87 – .909).
Anaheim has transitioned from the strongest defensive team in the league to a team with perhaps the best top line forwards in the league.
Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf have been the strength of the Ducks all season. Getzlaf leads the Ducks with 16 points (5G-11A) and was tied for second in the league scoring race as of Wednesday afternoon. Selanne has gathered 14 points in 13 games, Perry has 13 points (5G-8A) and Bobby Ryan is tied with defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky with 10 (4G-6A).
After the top five, Anaheim drops off, with only one other player with at least 5 points.
For the Penguins, Crosby still leads the team in goals (6), assists (9), points (15) and shots on goal (54), though he was held without a point against Dallas and has not scored a goal in five straight.
Tyler Kennedy played well in his second-line stint at Dallas, scoring a goal (his second in three games) and dropping the gloves in the first period against Dallas.
Pascal Dupuis has also played well of late, tallying two goals in his last game (at Carolina) and solidifying his spot on the first wing. Dupuis will return to the lineup tonight after missing Wednesday game due to the birth of his 4th child.
Chris Kunitz returns to face his old team Friday. Kunitz, playing his first full and healthy season with the Penguins, is off to a slow start. Kunitz has only 6 points (2G-4A) in 13 games while playing alongside Sidney Crosby and getting time on the first power play unit.
Evgeni Malkin has yet to play consistently well this season. Malkin has only three goals through 13 games and nine points overall. Constant line juggling, position changes and the injuries to Jordan Staal have undoubtedly affected Malkin’s ability to get into a rhythm, however, niether of those are legitimate excuses for Malkin’s play this season.
Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Cooke – Malkin – Kennedy
Talbot – Letestu – Asham
Rupp – Adams – Godard
Orpik – Michalek
Martin – Letang
Goligoski – Engelland
*Marc Andre Fleury will start in goal
Jordan Staal is the Penguins’ only long-term scratch.
Anaheim is hurting. Defenseman Andy Sutton is out until late November with a broken thumb. Forwards Joffrey Lupul (blood infection) and Dan Sexton (broken nose) are expected to be out for a few weeks.
Center Kyle Chipchura is day-to-day with post-concussion symptoms. Left winger Matt Belesky, also sidelined with a concussion, is out indefinitely.
***Will DePaoli and James Conley contributed to this report***