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Pittsburgh vs. Boston Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (19-14-4-42) at Boston Bruins (28-5-4-60)

Where: TD Banknorth Garden
When: Thursday, January 1, 7:00 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 the second game of a home-and-home series against the Boston Bruins, Boston won the previous meeting, 5-2, on Tuesday. The Penguins are 1-1-0 against the Bruins this year and 1-0-0 in Boston with a 2-1 shootout victory Oct. 20.



Pens vs. Bruins 10/20
Pens vs. Bruins 12/29

Discipline: The Penguins took 10 penalties in the first game of the home-and-home series in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. On some of the penalties, players were out of position and had to take a penalty. On other occasions, the penalties were strictly lack of focus ans discipline. The Bruins have a lethal power play and converted two man-advantage scores against Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh must stay out of the box and or else they could come up with zero points against the Bruins.

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. The Penguins managed to trap those defensemen with quick transition passes and created odd-man rushes the other way, though couldn't get the best of Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
The Boston Bruins are the best team in the Eastern Conference right now, and arguably the best in the league. Boston has a 28-5-4 record for 60 points, nine points ahead of the next closest team in the conference. Boston is currently riding a nine-game winning streak. The Bruins have won 14 of their last 15 games, and 18 of their past 20. Boston finished the month of December - and a three-game road trip in the first showdown in Pittsburgh. The Bruins were unstoppable this month, boasting a 12-1-0 mark in December and outscoring their opponents by more than a 2-to-1 margin (55-27).

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 3.65 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 34 assists and 46 points, the fourth-most in the league. His 34 setups are the fourth most in the NHL. 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 23 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 40 points on 13 goals and 27 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. Wideman had a goal and two assists for three points and a plus-3 rating against Pittsburgh in the previous game. 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-14 rating in 25 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. Thomas played outstanding in the first game of the home-and-home series with 32 saves, including several highlight reel saves.
Phil Kessel was the odds-on favorite to be the top pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Some scouts even raved that he was a better prospect than the previous year's top draft pick (Sidney Crosby). But a sub-par college debut with the University of Minnesota combined with questions about his fitness and committment caused Kessel's draft stock dropped. The Bruins still thought highly enough of him to select him with the fifth-overall pick.

Kessel made the Bruins roster as a rookie but an unexpected diagnosis for testicular cancer looked to end his first NHL season. However, Kessel made a remarkable comeback to the Bruins lineup after missing only 11 games.

Kessel played in all 82 games last season and compiled 37 points on 19 goals and 18 assists. On the current campaign, Kessel is living up to the hype that surrounded his early career. Through 37 games, he has 39 points with 23 goals and 16 assists. His 23 goals are the fourth most in the NHL and he has quickly developed into a top-tier finisher in the NHL at the tender age of 20.
“It’s easy to be a good teammate when you’re winning games.
It’s stretches like this that test guy’s character and your
true colors kind of show.”
- Brooks Orpik
Center David Krejci has put together two consecutive nine-game point streaks surrounded by a lone pointless outing on December 10 against Washington. They are tied for the two longest point streaks of his career. During the past 19 games, he has 31 points - nearly doubling the 36 points he had during 70 career games before that.

Author: Sam Kasan

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