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Pittsburgh vs. Boston Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (19-13-4-42) vs. Boston Bruins (27-5-4-58)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Tuesday, December 30, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh will play a home-and-home series against the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh first of the season. The Penguins are 1-0-0 against the Bruins this year with a 2-1 shootout victory Oct. 20 at Boston.
Note: Two Penguins will hit games played milestones against the Bruins. Jordan Staal will become the youngest player in NHL history to reach 200 games at 20 years 111 days (Patrick Marleau, 20 years 115 days) when he steps on the ice. Also, Sidney Crosby will be appearing in his 250th contest.



Pens vs. Bruins 10/20
  Trib Media Minute 12/30
Crosby 12/30
Gill 12/30
Savard 12/30
Staal 12/30
Responsible Defense: The Bruins roll four lines that are capable of scoring. The Penguins will have to stick with their defensive scheme or else Boston will burn them. The Bruins like to play an up-tempo style and it will be tempting for the Penguins to match. However, Pittsburgh can’t get caught cheating or else the puck will end up in its net.

Transition Game: No one will confuse any of the current Bruins defensive squad with Bobby Orr but they try and imitate him. Boston’s defense loves to join the rush and has gotten caught deep on plays this season. If the Penguins can trap those defensemen with quick transition passes, then Pittsburgh can create odd-man rushes the other way.
The Boston Bruins are the best team in the Eastern Conference right now, and arguably the best in the league. Boston has a 27-5-4 record for 58 points, nine points ahead of the next closest team in the conference. Boston is currently riding an eight-game winning streak. The Bruins have won 13 of their last 14 games, and 17 of their past 19. Boston finishes up the month of December - and a three-game road trip - with its showdown in Pittsburgh. The Bruins were unstoppable this month, boasting an 11-1-0 mark in December and outscoring their opponents by a 2-to-1 margin (50-25).

Head coach Claude Julien ended a two-year postseason drought when he led the Bruins into the playoffs last season in his first year behind the bench. Boston sneaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed and stubbornly forced a seventh game before falling to top-seeded Montreal - a team that was 8-0 against the Bruins in the regular season. The Bruins rode their late-season success and carried that momentum into the current campaign.
Penguin killer Glen Murray is gone, along with Glenn Metropolit. Ryder was general manager Peter Chiarelli’s big free agent signee. Forward Blake Wheeler was a lower-level signing from Phoenix and is currently skating on the second line. Patrice Bergeron and Manny Fernandez were already on the team, but only played in a combined 14 games last season. So their return is possibly the biggest addition to the team, though Bergeron is sidelined after suffering a concussion.
The Bruins have the second-best offense in the league with 3.61 goals per game. Eight players have over 20 points on the season. Marc Savard is one of the best playmakers in the NHL and has the production to prove it. He leads the Bruins with 32 assists and 43 points, the fourth-most in the league. His 32 setups are the third (tied) most in the NHL - behind only Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Savard has always been a better setup man than a finisher, and has excelled with the goal-scoring development of Philip Kessel. Kessel, a Madison, Wisconsin native, has already netted a career-high 22 goals, which are fourth most in the league. Kessel is displaying the scoring touch that blew away scouts and led many to rate him as the best prospect in the 2006 draft. If the Bruins stick with their new combinations then the two will play alongside P.J. Axelsson, who isn’t a top-flight scorer but is solid in his own zone.

The strides made by second-line center David Krejci are remarkable. The former second-round pick is second on the team in scoring with 39 points on 13 goals and 26 assists. He’s already blown way passed the numbers he put up in his entire rookie campaign. The acquisition of Michael Ryder (two 30-goal seasons) from Montreal has given Krejci someone who can bury his passes. Ryder has 14 scores on the season, including seven game-winners. Milan Lucic, a 20-year-old rookie, is having a great season with 24 points (10G-14A). But the 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward’s inconsistent play has had him bouncing around the lineup. He was playing on the top line with Savard and Kessel, but Julien, unhappy with his recent play, bumped him to the third line with Stephane Yelle and Chuck Kobasew.
Boston doesn’t just have the second-best offense. The Bruins are the best defensive squad in the NHL, allowing a league-low 2.11 goals per game. The Bruins defense is anchored by the giant 6-foot-9, 255-pound Zdeno Chara. He’s the best defenseman in the league and a dominant presence on the ice. He’s paired with the Bruins' other shutdown defenseman, Aaron Ward. Former Penguin Andrew Ference had a great start to the season with a plus-9 rating through 16 games but a broken right tibia will force him to miss two months.

Dennis Wideman re-signed to a four-year deal in the offseason. The 25-year-old logged more than 25 minutes a game and is proving that he was worth the $15.5-million investment. Matt Hunwick has impressed the coaching staff in his stint in replacement of Ference. The 23-year-old rookie has 16 points and a plus-15 rating in 24 games. Hunwick’s ice time has increased and he’s been elevated to playing alongside Wideman. Mark Stuart and Shane Hnidy round out the group.
The Bruins have the best one-two goaltending tandem in the NHL in Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas. Both men split time between the pipes and are statistically ranked high in several categories. 34-year-old Thomas has a 15-3-3 record (fifth most wins in the NHL) with a 2.04 goals against average (ranking third in the league) and .935 save percentage (ranking second). Not to be outdone, Fernandez is 12-2-1 with a 2.02 GAA (ranking second) and .930 save percentage (ranking fourth). Fernandez’s return from right knee surgery has eased the burden on Thomas. Thomas seemed to tire late last season but Fernandez’s return should keep both men fresh.
The 31-year-old center appears to be in the prime of his career. Savard had a breakout season three years ago when he produced 97 points and an astonishing 69 assists with Atlanta. He proved that season wasn’t a fluke the following year when he recorded 74 assists and 96 points in his first season with Boston. Savard is currently fourth in the NHL scoring race with 11 goals and 34 assists for 43 points. His 32 assists trail only Malkin and Crosby. Not to mention his plus-23 rating is the best mark in the NHL. Savard has been a thorn in the Penguins side throughout his career. In 29 games against the Penguins, he’s notched 38 points on nine goals and 29 assists. He was held scoreless in the teams’ previous match so he’s due to put up some points.
“I guess it's just preventing things from getting stale. Guys get comfortable in situations. Right now, those two lines have not been up to snuff in our regards. We just thought that maybe a little bit of a change there might give both lines a little bit of a spark.”
- Bruins head coach Claude Julien, on his recent adjustments to the first and third lines
8: Straight wins for the Bruins, their longest winning streak since registering eight victories to end the 1992-93 campaign.

Author: Sam Kasan

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