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What To Watch For: Pens vs. Senators

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (21-15-4) vs. SENATORS (22-15-6)

WHEN: Jan. 10, 2012 - 7:00 pm  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center

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

The Ottawa Senators have been surging lately. They’re unbeaten in their last six games (5-0-1), are 8-1-2 in their last 11 and have climbed into fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 50 points.

Erik Karlsson (Getty Images)
Senators goalie Craig Anderson recently called his team a “resilient bunch” that has a no-quit attitude. And Anderson is absolutely right, as the Senators have rallied to win an NHL-leading six games this season when trailing after two periods.

Their latest come-from-behind victory was against Philadelphia on Sunday, where Ottawa scored four third-period goals to top the Flyers, 6-4. One of the game’s heroes was talented young defenseman Erik Karlsson, who scored a goal, added an assist and finished with an impressive plus-5 rating in the victory.

It’s the latest in a string of impressive performances for the 21-year-old, who is coming into his own as an elite defender as he leads all NHL blueliners with 41 points through 43 games and averages a team-high 25:33 minutes per game.

Karlsson was one of four Senators voted by fans into the starting lineup of the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, the others being forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. And all of those players are starting the new year off right, especially Alfredsson.

The 39-year-old captain has piled up three goals and six points in four games played this month – and looking at the bigger picture, he’s got 17 points in his last 12 games. Meanwhile, Spezza is averaging just under a point per game while centering Michalek (who has a team-best 20 goals) and Colin Greening on the first line.

But while those players are all stepping up, it’s Anderson who’s perhaps been the biggest reason for his team’s success – especially lately. Anderson was named the NHL’s ‘Third Star’ for the past week after surviving a high volume of shots to post a 3-0-1 record, extending his overall run to 5-0-1 in his last six starts. The 30-year-old netminder, who’s started 36 of the Senators’ 43 games, leads all NHL goaltenders this season in shots faced (1,120) and saves (1,010).

The Penguins are surely hoping that Spezza doesn’t repeat the performance he gave in the two teams’ last meeting, where the centerman scored twice and added two assists in a 6-4 Senators victory on Dec. 16. Spezza has been Ottawa’s most consistent producer this season, as he’s got a team-leading 42 points (15G-27A) in 43 games played. His importance to this Senators squad cannot be understated, as he leads all Ottawa forwards in average ice time per game – both even strength (20 minutes) and on the power play (3:36 minutes). And finally, he’s a beast in the faceoff dot, taking an NHL-leading 935 draws and ranking second with 510 wins.
The Penguins recalled Tangradi from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Monday, and they’ll be looking for him to make an immediate impact. Tangradi, 22, is looking more comfortable than ever in his third season with WBS, leading the team with 14 goals and ranking second with 25 points in 30 games. The power forward played left wing on a line with Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy during Monday's practice and Tuesday's morning skate, and head coach Dan Bylsma said they’ll be looking for Tangradi to wreak havoc in and around the opposing team’s net.

Bylsma said that Brent Johnson will get the start Tuesday vs. Ottawa. He's 8-2-1 in his career vs. the Senators.

Chris Kunitz carries a four-game scoring streak against Ottawa into Tuesday's game. During his streak Kunitz has tallied seven points (2G-5A), including three points (2G-1A) in two games against the Senators this season. For his career, Kunitz is averaging better than a point per game against the Senators with 14 points (4G-10A) in 12 games.

In addition, Evgeni Malkin is another Penguin who historically plays well against the Senators. Malkin has scored 14 goals and 24 points in 22 career games. Entering Tuesday, Malkin has scored at least one goal in seven of his last eight games against the Senators. He has nine goals during that stretch, including a hat trick on Dec. 23, 2009 at Mellon Arena.

The Penguins dodged a bullet on the injury front with forward James Neal. It was originally believed that Neal would be sidelined for “weeks, not days” with a broken foot suffered blocking a shot late in the third period on Jan. 7 against New Jersey.

But after further evaluation, it was determined the injury was actually a bone bruise and Neal, who partook in Tuesday’s morning skate, will be able to play as pain permits. Get the full details on Neal's situation here.

They received more good news on the injury front when Craig Adams partook in Tuesday's morning skate after aggravating a previous injury on Sunday and sitting out Monday. He said "I felt good this morning, then felt good on the ice. So I don’t see any reason why I can’t play tonight."

However, defenseman Paul Martin did not skate Tuesday morning after missing Monday's practice due to illness. Although he's officially a game-time decision for tonight, the Penguins did recall defenseman Simon Despres from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton just after 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

In addition, Bylsma announced Sunday that center Jordan Staal is out 4-6 weeks with a knee injury after he collided knee-on-knee with Rangers forward Mike Rupp Friday night. The silver lining is that Staal will not need surgery.

The Penguins recalled forward Eric Tangradi from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Monday. The power forward currently leads WBS with 14 goals and ranks second with 25 points in 30 games. Also, Arron Asham will return Tuesday after missing two games with a lower-body injury he received Dec. 31 vs. New Jersey.

F Arron Asham, upper body
F Sidney Crosby, undisclosed
F Dustin Jeffrey, knee
D Kris Letang, broken nose and concussion
F Jordan Staal, knee
F James Neal, bone bruise

F Peter Regin, shoulder
F Jesse Winchester, concussion

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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