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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Bruins

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (18-8-0) vs. BRUINS (17-3-3)
WHEN: March 12, 2013 - 7:30 p.m.  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS, NBC Sports Network  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

The Penguins have a big challenge on Tuesday when they host the Boston Bruins for the first meeting of the season between the teams. The Bruins, who come to Pittsburgh with a 17-3-3 record for 37 points (and a conference-best 9-1-2 road record) and three games in hand on the Penguins, are just a tough team to play against. They are committed to a total team effort every night, anchored by solid defense and goaltending.

With Tim Thomas sitting out this season and his rights traded to the Islanders, Tuukka Rask has taken over as Boston’s No 1 goalie. The Bruins had been grooming him for this for a while, and the 26-year-old is exceeding all expectations in the role. He’s 13-2-3 this season with a miniscule 1.96 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage after Monday’s shootout win in Ottawa. However, since Rask started against the Senators there’s a very good chance backup Anton Khudobin starts 24 hours later against the Penguins. Khudobin, also 26 years old, has played 12 NHL games since 2009 – five of those coming this season. He’s 4-1 in those starts.

Overall, Boston’s defense is one of the strongest in the league. Captain Zdeno Chara is as tough to play against as ever and the 6-foot-9 blueliner matches up against the top players every night, so expect to see him go against Sidney Crosby on Tuesday. While Chara is familiar to the Penguins, rookie Dougie Hamilton is not. Hamilton – the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft – is doing well in his first NHL season and is seeing decent minutes on the power play.

Offensively, it’s been a balanced effort as pesky winger Brad Marchand is the only Bruin to reach double digits in goals (12). However, Tyler Seguin seems to have found his scoring touch with five goals in his last six games after scoring just three in his first 17. Overall, their line with Patrice Bergeron has been the team’s best and has produced the bulk of Boston’s offense. The line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton has been solid as well, with all three players hitting double digits in points – but could be even more consistent.

The Bruins are an interesting team when it comes to special teams. They have the NHL’s No. 1-ranked penalty kill that's allowed just seven power-play goals against on 91 chances for an obscene 92.3 percent success rate, with Chara and defense partner Dennis Seidenberg anchoring their top unit. However, their power play has been an anomaly this season, as it’s one of the NHL’s least successful. But it says a lot about their team that they’re winning games despite their struggles there.

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Jay Pandolfo - Rich Peverley - Jordan Caron
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dougie Hamilton - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid

(Getty Images)

After scoring 29 goals last season, Seguin found the back of the net just three times in his first 17 games this season. It’s not that he wasn’t playing well; he was doing everything else right but the puck just wasn’t going in. Now, it is. Seguin, 21 years old and in his third NHL season, has five goals in his last six games entering Monday’s game against the Senators to give him a total of eight through 23 games. He's playing with a lot of confidence and no hesitation in his game, leading the Bruins with 76 shots and has a plus-16 rating.

Tuesday is going to be a big challenge for the Penguins captain, who was named the NHL’s ‘Second Star’ of the week on Monday after leading all players in both points (11) and assists (9) in four games played. Not only will he be forced to deal with 6-foot-9 Bruins captain Zdeno Chara marking him the whole night, he’ll be counted on to win key faceoffs for Pittsburgh. The Bruins are the NHL’s top team when it comes to winning faceoffs, with Patrice Bergeron leading the team with a 60.9 percent success rate. Expect to see Crosby match up with him and to take defensive-zone faceoffs when the Penguins need a clear, especially on the PK.

The Bruins are the lone Eastern Conference team that the Penguins have yet to play this season. They will meet again on Sunday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center. Pittsburgh has won three straight games against Boston. The Penguins are 5-1 in their last six meetings against the Bruins and 8-3 in their past 11. This season, the Penguins are 5-1 against teams from the Northeast Division.

Chris Kunitz (Getty Images)
Pittsburgh’s five-game overall winning streak has come entirely during the month of March. During this run the Penguins have scored a NHL-best 26 goals (tied with Montreal). The Penguins’ 5.2 goals-per-game average this month also leads the league. Sidney Crosby (3G-11A-14PTS), Chris Kunitz (8G-4A-12PTS) and Kris Letang (0G-11A-11PTS) are the top-three leading scorers in March among all NHL players. Kunitz’s eight goals lead all scorers, while Crosby and Letang are tied for the league lead with 11 assists.

The Penguins have won four straight home games and seven of their previous nine heading into Tuesday. During that nine-game stretch the Penguins have 38 goals for – an average of 4.2 per game. Several players are carrying hot stretches at home into Tuesday's game:
*James Neal has points in eight straight home games (7G-6A-13PTS).
*Sidney Crosby has recorded 10 points (3G-7A) while tallying points in three straight home games.
*Chris Kunitz has a four-game home point streak (5G-3A-8PTS).
*Kris Letang has assists in five straight home games (8 total).

Pittsburgh’s power play enters Tuesday owning the third-best percentage in the NHL at 25.7%. The Penguins have scored at least once on the power play in 15 of their last 18 games (20-for-70; 28.6%). At home, the Penguins have scored on the man-advantage at least once in seven of the previous eight games (11-for-32; 34.4%). Sidney Crosby leads all NHL players in power-play assists (13) and points (15). They'll be going to battle with the league's top-ranked PK.

Several Penguins had big nights in Sunday’s 6-1 defeat of the New York Islanders. Chris Kunitz became the first NHL player this year to record multiple hat tricks when he notched three goals and two assists for a career-high five points. Kunitz tallied his first hat trick of the year on Feb. 3 at Washington when he scored a career-best four goals. Sidney Crosby picked up five assists against the Islanders – the fifth time in his career that he’s recorded five or more points in a game. It also marked just the second time he’s had five assists in one game, and the first time he’s done so since Dec. 13, 2006 against Philadelphia. Crosby is the only active NHL player with more than one five-assist game on his resume. He also became just the second Penguins player with multiple five-assist games in his career (Mario Lemieux, 8).

Sunday was the first time two teammates recorded five points in the same game since Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner did so for Edmonton on Oct. 22, 2009 against Columbus. Sunday marked the first time that two Penguins recorded five or more points in a game since Crosby and Sergei Gonchar did so against Philadelphia on Dec. 13, 2006.
Courtesy: Elias Sports Bureau

Pittsburgh is the only team in the NHL that boasts four double-digit goal scorers this season: James Neal (17 goals); Chris Kunitz (17); Sidney Crosby (12); and Pascal Dupuis (11).

Coach Dan Bylsma announced following Sunday's win over the Islanders that center Evgeni Malkin, who sat out with an upper-body injury suffered late in the third period of Saturday's game in Toronto, would miss approximately 1-2 weeks. Bylsma said before Sunday's game that he was not concerned it was a concussion.

C Evgeni Malkin, upper body

C Marc Savard, post-concussion symptoms (non-roster player)
C Chris Kelly, lower body

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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