The Blackhawks and Penguins meet on Saturday as two of the top teams in the league; Pittsburgh ranks second in the NHL with 40 wins, while Chicago paces all teams with 208 goals scored. The two teams last met on Dec. 20, 2011, a 3-2 Blackhawks loss at CONSOL Energy Center. The Blackhawks have scored just one goal in their last two games, both losses, and hope to recover their scoring touch against a Pens defense that allowed five goals to Montreal in a 6-5 shootout loss on Thursday. Chicago’s blue line, meanwhile, will be tested by the high-end scoring abilities of forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
One of the biggest headlines entering Saturday’s game is the presence of Crosby, who will play a regular-season game in Chicago for just the second time since he entered the league in 2005. The NHL’s leading scorer (80 points in 59 games) hasn’t faced the Blackhawks since the 2006-07 season and has never gone head-to-head against Jonathan Toews, who served as Crosby’s alternate captain on Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics. The battle between two of the league’s premier centers and leaders should not only be riveting, but also set the tone for their respective teams.
Defenseman Olli Maatta has been turning heads for Pittsburgh in his rookie campaign, collecting 25 points (7G, 18A) as a 19-year-old. Maatta has two goals and two assists in his last two games, which sandwiched his first trip to the Olympics, where he was the youngest hockey player to win a medal in the tournament after claiming bronze with Finland. In the open air, Pittsburgh will likely rely on Maatta’s smooth skating and confident two-way game to drive their offense from the back end.
Peter Regin picked up his first goal as a Blackhawk in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, in just his second game with the club since being acquired on Feb. 6; his tally ended the Rangers’ shutout bid with just 12 seconds left in the game. The Herning, Denmark, native previously dressed for the New York Islanders in their Stadium Series game against the Rangers on Jan. 29 at Yankee Stadium.
Though not quite pond hockey, Saturday’s tilt will provide unique challenges for the players, with chilly air and swirling winds sweeping in from Lake Michigan. The forecast predicts temperatures in the mid-teens — with the possibility of snow — at game time, and playing under stadium lights will require additional adjustments to the glare off the ice. Both teams have experience in those areas, however, with the Blackhawks having participated in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field and Pittsburgh boasting two previous outdoor contests.
Overall spectacle aside, posting a win at Soldier Field will be the primary objective for the Blackhawks, who not only want to snap a two-game losing streak, but also make a statement against the top team in the Eastern Conference. Controlling the puck off the draw and attacking the Pittsburgh blue line — sans former Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang, who suffered a stroke in late January — will be an important part of the game plan, and with the firepower of the Pens offense, the game could easily turn into a nail-biting, end-to-end affair.