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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Bruins

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (29-18-4) vs. BRUINS (32-15-2)

Feb. 4, 2012 - 1:00 pm  |  WHERE: TD Garden

WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

The Boston Bruins had an outstanding first half of the season that included a 10-game win streak and a 15-game unbeaten stretch – and made the defending Stanley Cup champions seem nearly unbeatable. However, the B’s are starting to look human again as they’ve fallen into a funk where they've alternated wins and losses in their last nine games, going 4-4-1 in that span.

Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara
Although they’re still at the top of the Northwest Division and second in the Eastern Conference, head coach Claude Julien said following Thursday's 3-0 shutout loss to Carolina that “right now, we’re playing more like a team that should be at the bottom of the standings than the top of the standings.” They’ve been lacking focus and execution, especially defensively as the Bruins have allowed three-plus goals in five straight games.

But even though Boston has been at (or close to) its worst lately, when they're at their best, the Bruins are an aggressive, dangerous team with great structure and depth that’s sound on both ends of the ice. Perhaps the biggest indicator of that is their plus-67 goal differential – the league’s next highest is Detroit with a plus-46.

Though they’ll be the first to admit they’ve been neglecting their defensive responsibilities and straying from their systems, Boston still ranks fourth in the NHL with a 2.17 goals against average. And conversely, the Bruins possess the NHL’s top-ranked offense, averaging 3.47 goals per game and scoring six-plus goals in 11 contests. What’s scary about that is that it’s truly been a collective effort.

Their top goal scorer (Tyler Seguin) has just 19 tallies, and his 43 points ties for the team scoring lead with linemate Patrice Bergeron. Brad Marchand, who rounds out the trio, has probably been the most productive of the three as of late, as he’s got nine goals and 16 points in his last 16 contests.

Usual top-line winger Nathan Horton has been out the last three games with a concussion, so Rich Peverley has moved up to play with center David Krejci and left wing Milan Lucic in his absence – and has piled up five points in his last six games.

Rask got the loss Thursday against the Hurricanes, which means the Penguins will likely see All-Star Tim Thomas between the pipes on Saturday afternoon. Thomas, who made 45 of 46 saves in the two clubs’ last meeting, has won his last three starts and boasts a 21-9 overall record this season.



Lucic is the consummate example of a guy that everybody wants on their team because they hate playing against him. Lucic, 23, has outstanding size and strength, measuring up at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds – and he uses it to his full advantage to throw nasty hits (he leads the B’s with 113 in that category) and dominate battles along the walls and in the corners. He also employs it to drive to the net hard and establish a net-front presence – and it’s resulted in two goals and five points in his last four games (and eight goals and 16 points in his last 18 contests).

If you’re trying to pinpoint a primary reason why the Hurricanes blanked the Bruins 3-0 on Thursday, look no further than Cam Ward. The Carolina goalie made 47 saves to earn the shutout, and the Penguins will need to get a similar performance from Marc-Andre Fleury if they want to hand the Bruins their second-straight loss. Fleury got some much deserved rest on Wednesday against Toronto after a brilliant showing on Tuesday against the Leafs, but should be back in goal Saturday against the explosive B’s. They’re certainly going to test him, as they’ve taken 30-or-more shots in 33 of their 49 games with a 21-10-2 record in those games.

The Bruins are 7-2-1 in their last nine home games and have outscored their opponents by a 39-19 margin in those games. Boston is 15-3-2 in its last 20 games at TD Garden.

They have not lost consecutive home contests since Oct. 22 (4-2 to San Jose) and Oct. 27 (2-1 to Montreal).

The trio of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz is the hottest line in the NHL. Since Dec. 10 they have combined for 34 goals, 38 assists and 72 points in 22 contests for an average of 3.27 points per game. During that period they have combined to tally 34 of the team’s 65 goals (52.3%); they have five of the nine game-winning goals (Malkin, 4; Neal, 1); and they have nine of 14 power-play goals (Neal, 5; Malkin, 2; Kunitz, 2).

All three have also been clutch in shootouts during that stretch, combining to go 6-for-10 with four game-deciding goals as the Penguins have gone 4-0 in shootouts. Since Dec. 10, Malkin is 4-for-4 with two game-deciding goals, while both Neal and Kunitz are 1-for-3 with one game-deciding goal each.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby (diagnosed with a soft-tissue injury in his neck, which is positive news for all) skated before practice Friday while center Jordan Staal and defenseman Simon Despres did off-ice workouts.

All three players will accompany the team on their three-game road swing to Boston, New Jersey and Montreal. They will not play in any of the games.

Head coach Dan Bylsma said at this point in time, there is not a plan for any of those guys to re-join practice. However, he did add that both Staal and Despres are progressing and returning to practice sometime next week would be a possibility.

F Arron Asham, illness/concussion-like symptoms (8)
C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (24)
D Simon Despres, knee (11)
F Jordan Staal, knee (13)

F Nathan Horton, mild concussion (3)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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