We have updated our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the NHL’s online services, you agree to these updated documents and to the arbitration of disputes.
Sign in with your NHL account:
  • Submit
  • Or
  • Sign in with Google
 
SHARE
Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Tortorella likes off-ice chemistry Rangers are building

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers' 38-14-5 record -- the best in the Eastern Conference going into Tuesday night's play -- signals to the rest of the NHL that they are a very good team on the ice.
 
Off the ice, coach John Tortorella said, the Rangers remain a work in progress.
 
The addition of Stanley Cup-winning veterans Brad Richards and Mike Rupp has greatly added to the Rangers' locker room chemistry, Tortorella said before Tuesday night's game against Atlantic Division rival Pittsburgh.
 
"That's one of the positives out of this year, our locker room is growing," Tortorella said.
 
Still, Tortorella isn't ready to call his team a finished product, not with more than one-quarter of the regular season and the playoffs remaining.
 
Does he like what he sees -- and, most importantly, what he hears? Most definitely. But Tortorella said there remains work to be done, even if there is every suggestion this is a tight-knit and cohesive group.
 
"If teams are going to be successful, the locker room needs to grow and self-sustain," Tortorella said. "I think we're still in the middle of that. I've talked to a lot of coaches after the season's over, guys that have won the Stanley Cup, and you hear about how coaches say the room takes over itself. I think that's a very important characteristic. It's not (all) about the play on the ice; how the locker room is conducted and how people handle themselves there sometimes is more important that some of the things that go on on the ice. Most successful teams have that."
 
Tortorella had it in 2004, when the Tampa Bay Lightning -- with Richards in the lineup -- won the Stanley Cup.
 
Rupp points to team leaders such as Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi as helping unite these Rangers. A season ago, the Rangers earned the conference's eighth and final playoff spot, winning 44 games; this season, the Rangers already have 38 victories with 25 games remaining.
 
"They sacrifice their bodies every night for the team. It goes a long way when your leaders are doing that," said Rupp, who won a Stanley Cup with the Devils. "It brings the team together. We're willing to make sacrifices to get team wins, so it's good."
 
The Rangers held an optional skate in advance of their second game in Pittsburgh this season. They won 3-1 on Jan. 6, their fourth consecutive victory there since Consol Energy Center opened last season.
 
Among those skating was former Penguins forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has missed the last five games with a head injury.
 
The Rangers' projected lineup:

Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Ruslan Fedotenko
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Marc Staal - Steve Eminger
 
Henrik Lundqvist, who is 8-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage and three shutouts in his last nine games, is expected to be in goal, with Martin Biron as the backup.
 
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 12:55 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Orpik out as Pens look for first win vs. Rangers

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins moved into Consol Energy Center 17 months ago, but they're still looking to establish a true home-ice advantage there.
 
To do that, they need to prove they can beat division rivals like the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers there.
 
With the first-place Rangers visiting Tuesday for the second time this season, the Penguins still are looking for their first home win against New York since they played in Civic Arena. The Rangers are 1-0 at Consol this season and 4-0 since Consol opened -- the same record the Flyers have.
 
The Penguins are going into Tuesday's game a bit shorthanded, as Brooks Orpik, their most physical and consistent defenseman, won't play because of an upper-body injury that coach Dan Bylsma said is expected to be short-term.
 
Backup goalie Brent Johnson, struggling with only one win in the last two months, has an undisclosed illness and won’t suit up. Brad Thiessen, 20-14-2 with a 2.88 goals-against average at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, was called up to take his place.
 
Also back in uniform is forward Eric Tangradi, who was recalled Monday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the fourth time this season. Bylsma said the Penguins need the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Tangradi to add a physical presence, especially with Orpik out.
 
"Eric, when he played his last time (in mid-January), really provided a physical element, a forechecking presence, (was) good in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "The reason why we called him back up was because we felt in our third and fourth lines, we need that presence, we need that size, we need that physicality. He's getting called up to be in that role. If he's getting four to five hits a game, he'll be a real factor."
 
Bylsma did not say what player would come out of the lineup so Tangradi can play. Matt Cooke didn't practice Monday, a day after being struck in the arm by a puck in Buffalo, but he participated in the morning skate Tuesday.
 
If the Penguins have any hope of overtaking the Rangers to win the Atlantic Division, winning Tuesday is a priority because a loss would drop them 12 points out of the division lead.
 
"Yeah, we still want to catch them," forward Jordan Staal said Tuesday. "I watched the last game we played in that building (a 4-1 win in New York on Jan. 19), and I felt like we had a really solid game. We are right there with them, but we definitely need to play our best to have a good chance for the win."
 
That game represents the Penguins' only win in three games against their long-time rival this season. There are two other matchups remaining after Tuesday -- March 15 in New York and April 5 in Pittsburgh.
 
"They're the best team in East by nine points, 10 ahead of us, and certainly a team where if we have any idea that we're going to catch them, we're going to need to win all three games against them, starting with the one here tonight," Bylsma said. "The consistency with which they play, the way they play their game, is the determining factor in their success. Their penalty kill is near the tops in the League; (they have) well-rounded defensive play. … They come at you in a lot of different ways."
 
Bylsma also called the Rangers "a dangerous, aggressive team. They've got a lot of different guys being effective and scoring for their team."  Ten Rangers currently have 20 or more points.
 
Without Orpik, here's what the Penguins' lineup could look like tonight:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Eric Tangradi - Dustin Jeffrey - Craig Adams
 
Kris Letang - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Paul Martin
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for the 31st time in the Penguins' last 33 games; in three of those, he replaced an ineffective Johnson.  In 39 career games against the Rangers, he is 19-12-7 with a 2.79 GAA.
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Boudreau faces Pens for first time since joining Ducks

PITTSBURGH -- The Anaheim Ducks' record has improved substantially since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach on Nov. 30, and that doesn't surprise Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke in the least.
 
During the last five years, the Penguins and Boudreau's former team, the Washington Capitals, maintained one of the NHL's best and most competitive rivalries outside of division play.
 
With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading Pittsburgh and Alex Ovechkin a threat to score in every game for Washington, Capitals-Penguins games often were among the highlights of every regular season.
 
Pittsburgh's come-from-behind victory in a memorable seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal in 2009, when the Capitals won the first two games at home and Game 6 in Pittsburgh, yet couldn't win the series, helped propel the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup in 17 years.
 
The Penguins won't see Boudreau nearly as much now that he is coaching in the Western Conference, but they know what to expect Wednesday night at the Consol Energy Center.
 
The Ducks are 16-11-5 since Boudreau replaced former Stanley Cup winner Randy Carlyle as coach following a 6-13-4 start. They are 13-2-3 in their last games, gaining at least a point in 16 of 18 games, and they've moved to within eight points of the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
 
"They're in desperation mode. They are making a push to get into the playoffs. They didn’t have the start that they wanted, but they've played unbelievable the last 18-20 games," Cooke said. "I give Bruce credit and the team credit for responding to a new coach. We're going to have to be at our best to beat them."
 
Before Dale Hunter replaced him in Washington, Boudreau's Capitals beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime Oct. 13 at Consol.
 
The Ducks, who are 6-1-3 in their last 10 road games, won 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday night. They did not practice in advance of their first game in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has opposed Boudreau's teams regularly, dating back to their time together when Bylsma coached for the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) farm club and Boudreau was with Hershey.
 
"I see some Bruce Boudreau coaching in their team, how they are playing," Bylsma said. "They've always been tough games. I think Bruce has had great teams and great success. You see that now in his record. His teams are playing really hard and playing really well. … We're expecting a team that’s playing really well and coming at you in a lot of different ways."
 
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:10 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bylsma marvels at play of ageless Selanne

PITTSBURGH -- To Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, Anaheim Ducks star Teemu Selanne isn't aging as he approaches his 42nd birthday. Rather, his play suggests he is ageless.
 
No matter the era, no matter the opponent, no matter the arena.
 
During an NHL career that began 20 years ago, Selanne has scored in a remarkable 52 arenas -- or nearly every rink in which the League has played during that time. He's missed out only on the Prudential Center in Newark, the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
 
Selanne can't cross Winnipeg off his list during this regular season; he had a pair of assists but did not score a goal when his Ducks played their only game of the season there Dec. 17, losing 5-3.
 
But he has a chance this week to score in both Consol and the Prudential Center as the Ducks continue an eight-game road trip that takes them to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and New Jersey on Friday.

Anaheim did not play in Pittsburgh last season, when Consol replaced the Civic Arena as the Penguins' home rink.
 
Selanne's scoring touch has not disappeared even though he is only five months away from his 42nd birthday; he ranks 19th in the League in scoring with 18 goals and 33 assists for 51 points in 56 games. He also is a plus-5.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, himself a former Anaheim player, is the same age (41) as Selanne, yet he hasn't played in the NHL since the 2003-04 season.
 
"I've watched, played against, played with and then went back to watching Teemu," Bylsma said Wednesday. "I think when things changed in the game, it allowed him not to have to adjust. Since the (2004-05) lockout, when the rules changed and the speed of the game (increased), it looks like he's gotten faster at the ripe old age of 38, 39, 40, 41. He was able to utilize some of the things that maybe I saw him do when he was a Duck and I was playing with the Kings."
 
To Bylsma, Selanne is one of those rare players whose skills seem to improve the longer they play.
 
"He's got a rare gift of speed and shooting and scoring ability," Bylsma said. "He's also a guy who if you didn't think he's a physical player, you're wrong. He doesn't run you over, but he can play physically down low, he can reverse-shoulder you and knock you off your feet. He can drive the net. He's got a lot of power in his game. And that is not real evident when you see the guy flying up the ice."
 
Bylsma also suggested that Selanne may have benefitted from the transition from the traditional wooden stick to the now-popular composite stick.
 
"I know we used to give him a lot of grief for having a muffin of a shot," Bylsma said. "We used to scream 'Muffin!' He had a wood stick then and his shot wasn't the greatest, but he's got a goal scorer's touch. His shot's pretty lethal now. The stick maybe helped him out a little bit there, but he's always that goal-scoring touch."
 
Selanne has had plenty of success against the Penguins, getting 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points in 20 career games. He also is a plus-11.
 
Selanne also has a couple of other milestones awaiting him; he needs one goal to match Brendan Shanahan for 12th place in career goals (656) and is two from tying Luc Robitaille for fourth place in career power-play goals (247).
 
Selanne has 15 points, including 7 goals, as Anaheim has gone 13-2-3 in its last 18 games. The Ducks rallied to win 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday, scoring twice twice in the third period.
 
"Teemu Selanne, it's a marvel to watch him skate up the ice still," Bylsma said. "He's leading them in points. He's dangerous, and the team is playing very well right now."
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 1:23 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lineups for rare Ducks visit to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- Wednesday's game will be Anaheim's first in the Consol Energy Center, and the first matchup between the franchises since Anaheim won 3-2 on Nov. 5, 2010 at the Honda Center, getting goals from Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu and Bobby Ryan.
 
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, however, has plenty of first-hand information about the Penguins, having started the season as the Washington Capitals' coach. The Boudreau-coached Capitals beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime at Consol on Oct. 13
 
While they play infrequently, the Penguins are 5-1-1 in their last seven against the Ducks, who have dropped four straight in Pittsburgh since last winning there Oct. 6, 2001.
 
Bylsma shook up his defense pairings following an 8-5 win against Winnipeg on Saturday, breaking up the Paul Martin-Zbynek Michalek duo that had played together much of the last two seasons. Bylsma paired Martin with Engelland and Michalek with Matt Niskanen in Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he is expected to stay with that configuration against Anaheim.
 
While the Penguins had an optional morning skate Wednesday that was attended by 12 players, the Ducks stayed off the ice following the late-night flight from Minnesota after their win there Tuesday.
 
The projected lineups:
 
DUCKS
Jason Blake - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Nick Bonino - Andrew Cogliano
Niklas Hagman - Rod Pelley - George Parros
 
Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank
 
Jonas Hiller will start in goal, with Jeff Deslauriers the backup. Hiller is 1-2-0 with a 3.70 goals-against average in three career games against Pittsburgh.
 
PENGUINS
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Cal O'Reilly - Dustin Jeffrey
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Richard Park
 
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal, with Brent Johnson the backup. Fleury will be playing for the 28th time in 30 games, although Johnson started twice in the previous six games.  Fleury is 15-9-1 during that stretch, twice taking over for Johnson during losses.
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hot Ducks try to end Pens' success against West

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins keep running into teams that wouldn't make the playoffs if they started now, yet are playing better than most teams in the NHL.
 
On Sunday, they were 4-2 winners against Tampa Bay, which came into the contest with the League's best record over the previous 10 games (7-1-2).
 
Now, they meet the Anaheim Ducks, who went into Wednesday's games eight points out of the Western Conference's final playoff spot. However, the Ducks have earned at least a point in six consecutive games and are 13-2-3 in their last 18 games.
 
The Ducks' 13-3-3 record (29 points) since Jan. 1 ties them with the New York Rangers for the second-best record during this calendar year; the Red Wings have earned 31 points while going 15-4-1.
 
Anaheim also is 2-0-1 during an extended road trip in which it plays eight games in 15 days.
 
Corey Perry, who has a team-leading 27 goals, had a hat trick Sunday against Columbus and has five goals in his last four games. Teemu Selanne, at age 41, has seven goals and 15 points during that 13-3-3 run.
 
"They've got a lot of size up front, good hands and good speed, so you've got to keep them in front of you and play physical on them," Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland said. "You've got to limit their time and space in the zone and get the puck started moving forward so you can go to work."
 
Playing physically also means playing smart, he said.
 
"You can't run out of position to try to get a bit hit on them, because they can make you look awfully bad with the skill they have," Engelland said.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is well aware of the dangers of playing an opponent that knows it can afford very few losses the rest of the way if it is to mount a legitimate run at the playoffs.
 
"Right now they're playing as well as and are as hot as anybody in the League," Bylsma said. "They come at you with a very good goaltender right now in Jonas Hiller, who I expect to see tonight, and they certainly come at you with a lot of speed and power. They're tough."
 
Hiller needed to make only 17 saves as Anaheim clamped down defensively in winning 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday. Niklas Hagman, who didn't have a point in nine games, and Perry scored in the third period for the Ducks, who won for the first time all season (1-21-1) when trailing after two periods.
 
Bylsma has some knowledge of the Ducks, of course; he was a forward on their 2003 Stanley Cup finalist team that lost to New Jersey in seven games, a Final in which the home team won every game. Bylsma had 10 goals and 22 assists in 209 regular-season games with Anaheim.
 
The Penguins have been good home and away against the Western Conference, going 8-1-3. 

"I don't have an explanation for that, but I've seen that and I know what our record is," Bylsma said. "We played some very good teams early on and our focus was there."
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected Lightning linuep

The Lightning's possible lineup for their first game in Pittsburgh since that Game 7 on April 27:
 
Steve DownieSteven StamkosTeddy Purcell
Ryan ShannonVincent LecavalierMartin St. Louis
Nate ThompsonDominic MooreTom Pyatt
Brett Connolly - JT WymanAdam Hall
 
Pavel KubinaEric Brewer
Victor HedmanBrett Clark
Bruno GervaisBrendan Mikkelson
 
Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:29 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Despite cold, Bolts have warm memories in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- With temperatures in the teens and the wind chill far below that -- yes, there was snow, too -- the Tampa Bay Lightning received a bitterly cold greeting when they arrived in Pittsburgh for Sunday night's game against the Penguins.
 
Not that they needed it. At least for a while longer, the Lightning are likely to retain very warm memories of Pittsburgh when they make their infrequent visits there.
 
Last spring, the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the favored Penguins in their Eastern Conference opening round playoff series. They won each of the final two games in Pittsburgh, in a pair of couldn't-be-different contests -- a free-wheeling 8-2 decision in Game 5 and a tighter-than-tight 1-0 win in Game 7.
 
Sunday's game was the Lightning's first in Pittsburgh since that series, which marked only the second time in franchise history that the Penguins lost a playoff round in which they led 3-1. Tampa Bay went on to sweep favored Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, then took eventual Stanley Cup champions Boston to seven games before losing the Eastern Conference Final.
 
The Lightning didn't have a morning skate in Pittsburgh after winning in Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night behind Steven Stamkos' NHL-leading 37th goal. They will finish up a three-game, four-day road trip that began with a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
 
Still, the Lightning are 3-0-1 in their last four road games.
 
Stamkos has five goals during a six-game scoring streak, but he isn't the only Lightning player who is streaking. Martin St. Louis has six goals and 11 assists while scoring in 10 of his last 12 games, and Vincent Lecavalier has 10 goals and 23 points over 21 games.
 
While the Lightning's stars are leading a 7-1-2 surge over their last 10 games, star Evgeni Malkin has eight goals and seven assists as the Penguins have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10. Malkin had his third 5-point game of the season Saturday, netting a goal and setting up four others during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg.
 
An admiring Guy Boucher, the Lightning's coach, said Sunday that Malkin looks “gigantic” at ice level the way he is playing these days -- much like former Penguins star Mario Lemieux did during his prime.
 
Forward Ryan Malone (upper body injury), a former Penguins player, was expected to play during this road trip after being out since Jan. 21, but Boucher said he will remain out for precautionary reasons. The Lightning don't want to take a chance that Malone will have a setback.
 
While Dwayne Roloson was in net during that first-round playoff series last season, Mathieu Garon made 27 saves while beating Buffalo and is 6-0-2 in his last eight, so Boucher plans to start him.
 
While the Lightning won't have long to experience the cold of a February day in Pittsburgh, they'll be back in less than two weeks -- on Feb. 25 -- to finish out the season series. The teams split the two games in Tampa, with the Lightning winning 4-1 on Nov. 17 but the Penguins earning a 6-3 win on Jan. 15.
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:09 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

For Now, Pens' Jeffrey Just Winging It

PITTSBURGH -- It's not the easiest thing to do -- change from one position to another during an NHL season -- but, at least for now, Dustin Jeffrey of the Pittsburgh Penguins is just winging it.
 
In every sense of the word.
 
Jeffrey, a center most of his career, is currently seeing time as a right wing mostly on the Penguins' third line, which is centered by the recently acquired Cal O'Reilly. Jeffrey was on a line with No. 2 center Jordan Staal and left wing Steve Sullivan when he scored a goal during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday.

With the Penguins overloaded with centers now that two-way star Staal is back after missing 15 games with a left knee injury, coach Dan Bylsma felt that Jeffrey's proven versatility would allow him to adjust to the move.
 
"I think it's a bigger move when wingers go from left to right wing, that's not as big a move as from center to wing," said Bylsma, a former NHL forward. "But Dustin Jeffrey has played  a full season at wing in Wilkes-Barre (AHL). For that reason, there was a possibility he could play wing up here because we have so many center men. We've had some injuries so we've needed him to play center, but the possibility of him playing wing has been brought up for a long time."

Currently, the Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Staal, O'Reilly and Joe Vitale at center, with Jeffrey in reserve. Right wing Pascal Dupuis has filled in at center. And that group doesn't include No. 1 center Sidney Crosby, who remains out with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby skated again Sunday in advance of the Penguins' optional morning skate.
 
Jeffrey has 3 goals and 2 assists in 20 games during a season in which he wasn't a full-go until mid-January after having knee surgery last year.
 
"While he hasn't played there this year and moving to wing is an abrupt change, he's had a fair amount of experience doing it," Bylsma said. "He knows the wall play, he knows the details of playing wing, so it's not a drastic move for him. I think his best season points-wise in the American Hockey League was at wing. He's a smart player and he understands the game really well."
 
Jeffrey, who realizes that a player's versatility can greatly aid his chances of remaining in the NHL, seemed to make the adjustment rather easily after practicing at wing for several days.
 
But, despite scoring  against the Jets, Jeffrey believes the Penguins need to tighten up defensively – especially when they play Tampa Bay and the ever-dangerous Steven Stamkos on Sunday night. Stamkos leads the NHL with 37 goals.
 
"We were almost trading chance for chance, and that's not how we're going to have success," Jeffrey said. "Obviously, we needed some secondary scoring; we got some. … But we can't let up that many goals. Especially against a good team; they're not going to let us score eight goals a game."
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Print ›
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 12:44 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected Penguins lineup vs. Lightning

PITTSBURGH — The standings might not show it, but the Tampa Bay Lightning-Pittsburgh Penguins game on Sunday night matched two of the NHL’s hottest teams.
 
While the Lightning are currently out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference with 54 points,  13 behind the fifth-place  Penguins and eight points out of the conference’s final playoff spot , they appear to be making a determined playoff push with a 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games. 
 
The Lightning won at Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night, and they recently ran off a five-game winning streak in which they defeated Boston, Dallas and Washington.
 
Despite going 1-2-1 on a road trip that wound up Tuesday, the Penguins are 7-2-1 in their last 10 after riding Evgeni Malkin’s five-point game to an 8-5 win over Winnipeg on Saturday at Consol Energy Center. They have won their last five at Consol, where they are playing 10 of 14 games during a stretch that began Saturday and ends March 11.
 
The Lightning know they must keep playing like this if they are to return to the playoffs, where they ousted Pittsburgh in seven games last season. The Penguins, even without injured captain Sidney Crosby, know they can put a relatively firm grip on a sixth consecutive postseason appearance if they can maintain their home-ice edge over the next month.
 
Less than a year since the Lightning rebounded from a 3-1 series deficit to beat his Penguins in the final three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma understands how dangerous the Steven Stamkos-led Lightning can be.
 
“Just seeing them back in this building, for our team, regardless of how many points they do have, this is the team that beat us out of the playoffs. And that’s the reminder I was stricken with this morning when I saw their logo on their bags,” Bylsma said. “I know we’ll have some of that tonight. They have dangerous aspects of their team.”
 
The most dangerous is Stamkos, who leads the League with 37 goals – seven more than the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel of Toronto. Stamkos, currently on a six-game scoring streak in which he has five goals, has 3 goals and 10 assists in 14 career regular-season games against Pittsburgh.
 
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Penguins must be much more defensively sound than they were against Winnipeg, which opened a 2-0 lead against them. The Jets scored on five of their 25 shots against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was propped up by an offense that matched the Penguins’ season high with eight goals.
 
“It’s always better to learn a lesson when you get a win like that,” Niskanen said. “That’s not the type of game we want. We don’t want it to be a 50-50 game where we’re exchanging chances. I think we can do a better job of spending more time in their zone and controlling the play there, and that will cut down on some of our chances against.”
 
Nine players took part in an optional morning skate Sunday as the Penguins finish up what , at least for them, is an uncommon set of back-of-back games in which they play in the afternoon one day and the evening the next. Because Tampa Bay played Saturday night, the game could not be scheduled in the afternoon.
 
Bylsma did not reveal his goalie, although he recently said Brent Johnson would get more playing time down the stretch. Johnson took part in the morning skate and Fleury did not. Fleury has played on all but one of the Penguins’ last 27 games, starting 24 times.
 
Johnson is 7-2-3 with a 2.52 goals-against average against Tampa Bay.
 
Defenseman Simon Despres, who has missed  14 games with a knee injury, did practice. He appeared to aggravate the injury while practicing Thursday.
 
Pittsburgh is 4-5-1 in the second half of back-to-back games.
 
The Penguins’ likely lineup:
 
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Matt CookeJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan – Cal O’Reilly – Dustin Jeffrey
Craig AdamsJoe VitaleRichard Park
 
Brooks OrpikKris Letang
Paul MartinZbynek Michalek
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland
 
Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury
Full Story ›|Email & Share Options ›|Comment › |Print ›
First | Prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7-12 | Next | Last
Quote of the Day

I feel that responsibility, I've felt it for the last two years. We core guys get a lot of minutes, we get a lot of opportunity out there. Our teammates, the organization and fans look to us to be the guys to put the puck in the net and to create momentum out there.

— Jordan Eberle on taking his game and the Edmonton Oilers to the next level