Good afternoon hockey fans. Tonight the Penguins host the San Jose Sharks, who are riding a four-game winning streak on their Eastern Conference road trip – most recently defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 in overtime on Thursday night.
The Penguins are starting a streak of their own with two straight victories over Western Conference teams this week, most recently a 4-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. The Pens have 40 wins against Western Conference teams, the most of any Eastern Conference team since the 2013-14 season. They’ll be looking for their 41st tonight.
Head coach Mike Johnston confirmed that the Penguins would use the same defensive pairs tonight against the San Jose Sharks as they did Thursday against the Avalanche.
The D-corps only allowed one even-strength goal in the contest while continuing to push the puck towards the offensive zone, where the forwards were able to maintain time and pressure to put up four goals for the second straight game.
“We liked the way our guys played the other night,” Johnston said. “Five-on-five I thought they kept the chances down. It was a tough matchup for Brian Dumoulin and for Ben Lovejoy playing against one of the better lines in the league, but I thought they handled it really well.”
The pairs are as follows:
Rob Scuderi – Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin – Ben Lovejoy
Ian Cole – Adam Clendening
Though the Penguins have dominated offensively in their last two victories, they’ve sat back in the third period and allowed opponents have been able to come back and cut the Pens lead to one. They allowed a late power-play goal against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and allowed two more at even-strength against the Avalanche on Thursday.
“I think we need to get better at a couple of things,” Nick Bonino said. “Puck management in those last couple of minutes, especially when we’re up by two, we might think the game is out of reach and it’s not. Teams can score so quickly now.”
Captain Sidney Crosby also addressed the issue.
“When teams raise their level and get desperate, you really have to focus and execute,” Crosby said. “We can’t sit back. We have to find a way to add to that lead without taking chances.”
Despite all of that, the Penguins are pretty comfortable in one-goal games with a 9-3 record this season.
“When we get the win we’re happy,” Bonino said. “We have a pretty good record with one-goal games so far. We’re doing something right.”
Former Penguin Paul Martin is making his return to CONSOL Energy Center tonight for the first time since signing a four-year deal in the offseason with the San Jose Sharks.
Martin played for the Penguins for the previous five seasons, recording 109 points (17G-92A) in 297 games.
“He did everything well. He was so consistent.” Crosby said. “He skated well, made a good first past. He always had a good stick defending, always in a good position. He did everything. He was a really big part of our team and it’s good to see him doing well in San Jose.”
Johnston is well aware of the skill his offense will be facing tonight in the defensive pair of Martin and Brent Burns.
“Martin provides a lot of stability on that pair,” Johnston said. “Burns can really jump into the offense and create like he can.”
Martin finds his new defensive partner similar to his former teammate, Kris Letang.
“They’re both very similar,” Martin said. “They have a similar skillset and ability to make things happen, get pucks to the net, create opportunities.”
It’s Martin’s first contest against the Penguins since March 17, 2010, a 2-5 Penguins loss to the New Jersey Devils, where he scored an unassisted goal in the contest.
Where: CONSOL Energy Center
When: 7 p.m.
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: 105.9 the X, the Penguins Radio Network
Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop