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Struggling Senators try to cool off Penguins

by Brian Metzer
PENGUINS (46-21-6) at SENATORS (37-28-10)


Last 10:
Pittsburgh 9-0-1; Ottawa 4-4-2

Season Series:
This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season. The Penguins won the first one 6-3, but the Senators won the next two, outscoring the Penguins 11-5 in the process.

Big Story:
The Penguins have been rolling since the last time these teams met, posting a 25-5-2 mark in 32 games. They have the New York Rangers and the top spot in the Atlantic Division in sight and could end Saturday evening in first place with a victory and a Rangers loss. The Senators are trying to get back on track; Friday's 5-1 loss at Montreal dropped them to 1-3-2 in their last six games and clinging to a playoff spot by just two points.

Team Scope:

The Penguins have been nearly unbeatable over their last 14 games missing out on just one of a possible 28 points in that span. The run continued on Thursday evening as the Penguins knocked off the Nashville Predators 5-1.

Evgeni Malkin stayed hot in picking up two goals to pull 10 points ahead of Philadelphia's Claude Giroux in the league's scoring race, and linemate James Neal chipped in four assists. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 of 30 shots to become the first goaltender in the NHL to notch 40 wins this season.

"It's nice, especially with Pekka Rinne, he was at 39 too," Fleury said after picking up No. 40 in Pittsburgh Thursday night. "I'm pretty happy to get it. I feel pretty fortunate to be playing on a good team like this. We have a great defense. I am lucky to be playing here in Pittsburgh with these guys. It's just nice to reach that mark."

The Senators have been one of the best stories of the season as they went from a team who was rebuilding, to one that has been neck-and-neck with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins for the Northeast Division lead. But they have struggled as of late and have come within two points of slipping out of a playoff spot.

The Senators have struggled to score -- they've managed just nine goals in their last six games. The power play, stuck in a 2-for-24 rut, has been a big culprit.

For the first time this season, there's pressure on the Senators -- but coach Paul MacLean says that's not such a bad thing.

"Pressure's a wonderful thing," MacLean said after Friday's game. "You can find out a lot about yourself and about your team, and how hard it is in the League. For some reason we feel we have that on us and we have to find a way to handle it or channel it into the right spots."

Who's Hot:
Malkin is riding a five-game goal scoring streak during which he's scored seven times. Fleury is 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts. .. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson who lead's all defensemen in scoring has six points in his past eight games.

Injury Report: For Pittsburgh, Brent Johnson is still dealing with a lower body injury, while Matt Niskanen is questionable after leaving the Nashville game with an upper body injury. … Ottawa's Jesse Winchester is on injured reserve with a concussion and Peter Regin is out for the season after shoulder surgery.

Stat Pack: The Penguins have clinched a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive season. It is the second-longest playoff streak in franchise history, behind only the 11 consecutive appearances from 1991-2001. … The Senators are trying to clinch a season series against the Penguins for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

Puck Drop:
Craig Anderson's return on Friday night was something less than a success. Ottawa's starting goaltender was back in the net after missing a month with a finger injury, but was lifted less than five minutes into the game. He returned for the last two periods, after the game was out of reach.

But Anderson's teammates weren't blaming their goaltender.

"It was everybody," said center Jason Spezza, who scored Ottawa's lone goal. "We weren't focused enough or good enough."

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