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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Senators

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (17-10-4) at SENATORS (14-14-2)

WHEN: Dec. 16, 2011 - 7:30 pm  |  WHERE: Scotiabank Place

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

The Senators enter Friday’s game on a bit of a slide, having gone 2-4-2 in their last eight contests. And to make a tough stretch even tougher, the Senators have lost the NHL’s leading goal scorer in Milan Michalek after he suffered a concussion in a collision with teammate Erik Karlsson on Tuesday against Buffalo.

Michalek sat out Ottawa’s last game, a 5-2 loss to Boston on Wednesday, and is currently listed as day-to-day with no timetable for his return. However, Senators head coach Paul MacLean says he doesn’t believe the Czech sniper will be sidelined for long.

While Michalek has been the engine driving the Senators' offense, he certainly is not the only player that’s been producing for Ottawa as longtime Senators Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza have also been performing well as of late. Spezza’s 32 points rank ninth (tied) in the league while his 22 helpers are tied for fifth, and the skilled centerman has also been performing well in the faceoff dot. He leads the NHL in faceoff wins (374) and second in total draws taken (679).

Alfredsson moved up to the first line to reunite with Spezza in Michalek’s absence, which has boosted his already excellent play. The long-tenured captain has nine points in his last nine games, and tends to do well against Pittsburgh – a team he’s compiled 55 points against in 59 career games.

The offense hasn’t been struggling – in fact, their blueliners have been chipping in as well, especially Erik Karlsson, who leads all NHL blueliners with 26 points. It’s keeping pucks out of their own net that’s been the problem, as Ottawa ranks dead last in both goals allowed (110) and goals against per game (3.44). However, they are dealing with a couple of significant injuries back there as former Penguin Sergei Gonchar and veteran Filip Kuba are both sidelined.

Senators: First-year defenseman Jared Cowen scored the overtime winner on Tuesday to lift Ottawa past Buffalo – which was just the third regular-season overtime goal by a rookie in Senators franchise history. With injuries to Gonchar and Kuba, Cowen – the ninth-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft – has been logging intensive minutes, with 25:45 of ice time being the least he’s played in his last five games.

Penguins: Chris Kunitz carries a three-game scoring streak against Ottawa into Friday’s game. During his streak Kunitz has tallied five points (1G-4A), including a goal in the only meeting between the teams this season on Nov. 25 at CONSOL Energy Center. For his career, Kunitz is averaging better than a point per game against the Senators with 12 points (3G-9A) in 11 games.

Goalie Brent Johnson will be getting the start Friday for the Penguins. Johnson tends to be exceptional against Ottawa, as he is 8-1-1 all-time against the Senators with a 1.99 goals-against average. As a Penguin, Johnson is 2-0 versus Ottawa with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in three appearances.

Pittsburgh has won four of the last five meetings against the Senators dating back to last season, including a 6-3 win on Nov. 25 in the only meeting thus far this season between the teams. The Penguins have scored five or more goals in three of their four wins against the Senators the last two years. In their last five games against Ottawa, the Penguins are averaging 3.8 goals.

While Milan Michalek is uncertain for Friday’s game, his older brother – Penguins defenseman Zbynek – is hoping to play. Zbynek has missed the last eight games, also with a concussion, but was cleared to practice with the team on Monday and said Wednesday if he remains symptom free, he hopes to be in the lineup.

Forwards Jordan Staal and Joe Vitale have not practiced the last two days with the Penguins, and head coach Dan Bylsma stated Thursday that they would be gametime decisions for Friday's tilt. Rookie Vitale has yet to miss a game due to injury yet this season, being a healthy scratch for four and skating in the other 27 contests. Staal sat out Dec. 10 vs. NY Islanders, but played in the Penguins' last game vs. Detroit on Dec. 13.

The Penguins did make a roster move Friday morning, recalling forward Eric Tangradi and defenseman Alex Picard from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

C Sidney Crosby, undisclosed
F Dustin Jeffrey, knee
D Kris Letang, broken nose and concussion
D Ben Lovejoy, broken wrist
D Zbynek Michalek, concussion
F Richard Park, fractured foot
D Brian Strait, hyper-extended elbow.

D Sergei Gonchar, upper body
D Filp Kuba, upper body
F Milan Michalek, concussion
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