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Penguins vs. Senators Game Preview

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins

Home: 12-6-1-25
Road: 12-4-1-25

WHEN: Dec. 26, 2010 - 7:30 pm   |   WHERE: Scotiabank Place
FSN  |  LISTEN: Pens HD Radio, 105.9 FM
Ottawa Senators
Home: 8-9-2-18

  Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators 
Milan Michalek
F  -  #9
  7 Goals
  6 Assists
  13 Points
• Represented the Czech Republic at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver with his older brother by two years, Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek.

• Has made a name for himself as a consistent goal-scorer, tallying 22 or more goals in four of his first five NHL seasons.

• Was traded to Ottawa from San Jose prior to the 2009-10 season with Jonathan Cheechoo and a 2010 second-round pick in exchange for Dany Heatley and a 2010 fifth-round pick.
Nick Foligno
F  -  #71
  4 Goals
  8 Assists
  12 Points
• Scored the game-winning goal against the Predators on Thursday to give him three points (2G-1A) in his last four games. 

• The gritty forward, noted for his outstanding work ethic, put up career-highs in his sophomore NHL season with 17 goals and 32 points through 81 games played.

• The Buffalo, N.Y., native has represented the United States in the last two IIHF World Championships, tallying three goals through six games in May.
Erik Karlsson
D  -  #65
  6 goals
   14 assists 
  20 points
• Led all defenseman and was tied for fourth on the team with six playoff points (1G-5A) against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

• The 20-year-old blueliner was Ottawa’s first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft that took place at the Senators’ home rink, Scotiabank Place.

• Played his first full professional season with Frölunda of the Swedish Elite League in 2008-09 before entering the NHL the following season, the same team that Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson spent three campaigns with before joining the Senators in 1995.
As Ottawa prepares to host Pittsburgh on Boxing Day, the Senators have a considerable amount of ground to make up in order to make a run to the post season. They’re currently sitting in 10th place with 34 points, trailing the Boston Bruins by six points for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

They’ve scored 83 goals on the season for an average of 2.31 goals-per game, the fourth-lowest in the league. Five of their last six games have been decided by a single goal, with the Senators earning a 2-1-2 record in those games.

Their third line has done a great job of providing an energetic physical presence, with wingers Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu combining for 104 hits while center Chris Kelly has six points in his last five games. But Ottawa needs consistent production from their big guns to earn some much-needed points over the second half of the season.
Longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 22 points, with six of those tallies coming on the power play. But he’s far from his 71-point output of last season, as is linemate Mike Fisher. Fisher has just 15 points (9G-6A) after tallying a career-high 53 points (25G-28A) in 2009-10.

Veteran forward Jason Spezza ranks third in scoring with 18 points (9G-9A) through 31 games. While Spezza hasn’t been making a regular appearance on the scoresheet, he’s contributing in other areas, most notably in the faceoff dot. He’s won 322 draws for a 56.4-percent success rate and has been centering speedy wingers Milan Michalek and Ryan Shannon, who was moved up to help jumpstart the offense.

On the back end, second-year defenseman Erik Karlsson responded to two-consecutive benchings in November by coach Cory Clouston by providing a much-needed offensive punch, as he ranks second in scoring with 20 points (6G-14A). Not only is Karlsson on pace for a 50-point season, but he’s also been putting up monster minutes for the Senators, playing 27:19 on Thursday against Nashville after skating for 28:35 against Washington.

Brian Elliott has been between the pipes for Ottawa in their last three games, as Pascal Leclaire withdrew from the Senators’ 6-5 overtime loss to Colorado on Dec. 19 just minutes before the opening faceoff with a nagging lower-body injury. Elliott has built some confidence after a 25-save performance against Nashville, but the win improved his record to just 2-6-3 in his past 11 starts. It’s unclear which goalie will start on Sunday.
  • Sunday marks the Penguins' first game at Scotiabank Place since April 25, when Pascal Dupuis scored the game-winning goal in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which eliminated the Senators from the playoffs.
  • This is the third of four meetings between the two teams, with the Penguins winning the first two contests at CONSOL Energy Center. Pittsburgh earned a resounding 5-2 victory over Ottawa on Oct. 18 thanks to goals from five different players. The Penguins then defeated the Senators 2-1 on Nov. 26, with Alex Goligoski netting the game-winning tally.
  • The Penguins have earned a league-leading 25 points on the road with a 12-4-1 record, including an 8-1-0 record in their last nine road games. The Senators, meanwhile, have been struggling at home, going 1-4-2 in their last seven contests at Scotiabank Place.
  • Penguins captain Sidney Crosby tallied a goal and an assist on Thursday against the Capitals to extend his career-high point streak to 23 games. He now has the NHL’s longest point streak since 1992-93, when Quebec’s Mats Sundin went on a 30-game run. Crosby has recorded 45 points (23G-22A) over his stretch.
  • Evgeni Malkin has scored 10 points (5G-5A) over his past five games after missing the previous four due to injury. His recent performances have propelled him into second place on the team’s scoring chart, as Malkin now has 32 points (13G-19A) in 31 games. He’s also been contributing defensively, as he leads the team with 21 takeaways.
  • Letang earned an assist on Crosby’s goal on Thursday to extend his point streak to three games, earning a goal and three helpers over that span. The assist gives him 25 for the season, establishing a new personal best for the 23-year-old defenseman (his previous high was 24 in 2009-10). He now has 31 points through 36 games, just two points shy of his career-high of 33 points that he posted in 74 games in 2008-09.
  • Tyler Kennedy has scored seven goals in 11 career games against Ottawa, getting two of his four-career two-goal games against the Senators. The Penguins’ third line of Kennedy, Mark Letestu and Chris Conner has been vital to the team’s success this season – the team is 5-0 when Letestu scores a goal and is 17-2-1 in Conner’s 20 games with Pittsburgh.


Power Play: The Penguins power play seems to light up whenever they play the Senators, and it’s been the catalyst behind their last two victories over Ottawa. When Pittsburgh topped Ottawa 2-1 on Nov. 26, both of the Penguins’ goals came with the man-advantage. In the teams’ first meeting on Oct. 18, the Penguins scored two first-period power-play goals en route to a 5-2 victory.  It’ll be important to keep their PP clicking on Sunday against a team whose PK ranks 22nd in the league with a 79.9-percent success rate.

Fleury Stays Hot: Despite their offensive woes, the Senators barraged Fleury with a season-high 44 shots the last time the two teams faced off exactly one month ago. Ottawa fired puck after puck at the Penguins netminder but he played incredible, making 43 saves to help Pittsburgh escape with a 2-1 victory. He’s coming off his best performance of the season in a 3-2 shootout win over the season, and the Penguins will need him to continue to stand tall in net against this Senators squad.

C Jordan Staal, broken right hand (up to 2 weeks)
F Mike Comrie, hip (13)
G Brent Johnson, groin (1)
F Arron Asham, undisclosed (1)
G Pascal Leclaire, lower-body (day-to-day)
Crosby (29) Alfredsson (11)
Crosby (31) Karlsson (14)
Crosby (60) Alfredsson (22)
Engelland (74) Neil (78)
Letang (+18) Hale (+3)
Crosby (9) Alfredsson (6)
Cooke (2)
Kelly/Michalek (1)
Fleury (16-7-1) Elliott (11-10-3)
Johnson (2.14) Leclaire (2.83)
Johnson (.925) Leclaire (.908)

Marc-Andre Fleury - We highlighted Pittsburgh’s goaltender the last time these two teams faced off, as he had just backstopped the Penguins to a 6-0-1 unbeaten streak and was fresh off recording his first shutout of the season. Fleury has somehow managed to improve his already stellar play since then as he’s coming off his best performance of the season in a 3-2 shootout win over Washington on Thursday. Fleury made 32 saves on a multitude of quality Washington scoring chances through regulation and overtime, then proceeded to stone six Capitals snipers in the shootout. He’s now 15-1-1 in his last 17 starts, allowing two-or-fewer goals in 14 of those games.
Chris Kelly - Prior to Thursday’s game, the Senators forward was on a four-game point streak, tallying six points (2G-4A) from Dec. 10 to Dec. 19. Although he was held off the scoresheet against the Predators, Kelly’s play over this past month has been a bright spot in a struggling offense, with the highlight being his first career hat trick on Dec. 5 that led his team to a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers.

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Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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