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Weekes on the Web

Pluses, minuses for Penguins-Lightning

Pittsburgh counting on depth with rash of injuries; Tampa Bay aiming for consistency

by Kevin Weekes @kevinweekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN "Wednesday Night Hockey" game in his Weekes on the Web blog.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning each look to get back on track when they play at Amalie Arena on "Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

The Penguins (6-4-0) were rolling with five straight wins before a 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday and a 4-2 loss at the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. The Lightning (4-3-1) won two in a row before they were defeated convincingly at home, 6-2 by the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. 

It should be a good matchup between two perennial Stanley Cup contenders when the Penguins visit the Lightning. 

Here's my breakdown of the game:

 

Penguins

Pluses: Sidney Crosby continues to drive the train as expected. He leads the Penguins with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and has at least one point in eight of 10 games this season. Behind him is forward Jake Guentzel (five goals, five assists) and defenseman Kris Letang (four goals, six assists), who each have 10 points. The three have each had a point streak of at least six games.

The Penguins scored 23 goals in five games prior to scoring two in their past two. They're eighth in goals per game (3.40).

Some of their depth players have played well; forwards Sam Lafferty and Dominik Simon each has five points and Brandon Tanev has four points. Plus, Jared McCann returned to the lineup Tuesday.

Video: PIT@MIN: Crosby nets nifty backhander on break

Minuses: Evgeni Malkin is a Hall of Fame player and the fact that he's not in the lineup hurts them. He's played two games this season because of a lower-body injury. Also out is Alex Galchenyuk (lower body), who they acquired in the trade for Phil Kessel on June 29. He's missed seven games.

Add to that they are without forward Bryan Rust and defensemen Zach Trotman and Brian Dumoulin. It's tough to build chemistry without a full lineup when you're missing as many players as they are. When they get healthy, it could take a while for them to mesh well together.

The Penguins finished in the top five in power-play percentage in each of the past three seasons (2018-19, fifth, 24.6 percent; 2017-18, first, 26.1 percent; 2016-17, third 23.1 percent) but are tied for 20th with Minnesota Wild (18.2 percent) this season. They've always been good on the power play, so let's see if they can turn it around.

 

Lightning

Pluses: Brayden Point has looked like Brayden Point. He missed training camp and is coming off hip surgery and looks like himself after last season. He has five points (three goals, two assists) in five games after he had an NHL career-high 92 points (41 goals, 51 assists) last season. He's increased his goal, assist and point totals each of the past two seasons.

Steven Stamkos (nine points; four goals, five assists) and Nikita Kucherov (eight points; three goals, five assists) have also picked up where they left off last season. Stamkos had an NHL career-high 98 points (45 goals, 53 assists) and Kucherov won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL MVP, when he had 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists), and has increased his point total in each of the past five seasons.

They still largely have the same team that won 62 games last season. The only major additions were forward Pat Maroon, who won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues, and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who's had a great start (seven points; four goals, three assists in eight games).

Video: TBL@TOR: Point nets shot in front to open the scoring

Minuses: We know the Lightning de-emphasized the regular season after they won the Presidents' Trophy and then got swept in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they still need to be consistent and haven't been thus far. They are 1-3-0 following a victory this season.

They've had a tough schedule so far. They've played two games at home and finished a six-game road trip. Following a three-game trip to the New York metropolitan area next week, they travel to Sweden for the 2019 NHL Global Series, where they will play the Buffalo Sabres in back-to-back games. From Nov. 2-13, those are the only two games they will play, so we'll see if the travel and long layoff hurts.

The Lightning must be better defensively. They've allowed four goals in four games and rank 21st in goals-against per game (3.38). Last season, they were seventh in in goals against per game (2.69).

 

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Star power in each lineup

2. Can Kucherov break out?

3. Power play and special teams

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