Good morning hockey fans. The Pens are back from the All-Star break and will begin the final stretch of the regular season with a matchup against the Ottawa Senators. It will be another important contest in the standings between 2 teams separated by a mere 3 points.
Ottawa comes to Pittsburgh for the 2nd time this season, and they’ve brought their medical kit. Out for the game are Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur. Marc Methot has an outside chance at returning to the lineup.
For the Pens, forward Chris Kunitz is close to returning to the lineup. He missed the team’s last two games before the break with an undisclosed injury.
“I feel good. I still have to talk to the doctors to get cleared,” Kunitz said. “Hopefully, there are no setbacks and I’ll be able to go tonight.”
Head coach Mike Sullivan said that Kunitz will be a game-time decision for tonight’s action.
MORNING SKATE DEETS The Pens had all of their healthy players on the ice for the morning skate (the only missing players were Beau Bennett, Nick Bonino and David Warsofsky).
Pittsburgh used the following workflow at the skate…
Marc-Andre Fleury was the first goaltender off the ice.
OLD FRIEND Pens winger Phil Kessel played 6 seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a fierce rivalry with the Senators. So he has a unique perspective from those previous battles heading into tonight’s game.
“Everyone is bunched together right now, and obviously I played against them a bunch when I was in Toronto,” Kessel said. “They are a good team with good players. We have to play a really good game to win tonight, because they’re a really good team.”
DEFENDING KARLSSON Most NHL teams don’t feature a defenseman as their leading scorer. But most NHL teams don’t have Erik Karlsson on their blueline.
The Norris Trophy winner and perennial All-Star Karlsson is the most dynamic blueliner in the league. His combination of speed, skill and shot make him a dangerous player every time he steps on the ice.
“He’s obviously an elite player,” Sullivan said. “Part of (defending him) will be an awareness of when he’s on the ice, try to make it hard on him by forcing him to fight for every inch of ice. Make sure you take good angles on him and get your stick on the puck.”
Speaking of dynamic talents on the backend, the Pens have one of those guys in three-time All-Star Kris Letang. Both players participated in the NHL All-Star weekend in Nashville.
“I like to watch him play,” Letang said. “He’s an outstanding player and fun to watch.
“That’s why he wins the Norris often and he’s a dangerous player for them.”
THIS ‘N AT *Fleury has 2 shutouts in his past 4 games. He is 5-0-1 in his last 6 home starts and has a 6-game winning streak at home against Ottawa (1.65 GAA; .942%).
*Crosby has 11 goals in his past 15 games and is riding a career-best 7-game home scoring streak.
*All-Star Evgeni Malkin has 11 goals and 14 points in his past 10 home games against Ottawa.