By: Jim Meinecke
After having their worst performance of the season last Saturday in New Jersey, the Penguins have bounced back with a pair of 4-3 wins over the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche. They play the San Jose Sharks tonight at Consol Energy Center, as the Penguins are in the middle of a four-game home stand against the Western Conference. The Sharks come into the contest on a four-game winning streak, after a win over the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 in overtime on Thursday. Oh yeah, I almost forgot that fan favorite, Paul Martin, will be back in town for the first time visiting his former club.
The Penguins have found a little recent success in a few areas that they have struggled in for much of the season. While the Penguins are still 25th in the league in goals per game, they are coming off of two four-goal games, as I mentioned above. They also scored a power play goal in each of the last two games. They will look to continue their streak to three games against the league’s 22nd-ranked penalty kill. Maybe more importantly for the Penguins and their fans, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have looked like themselves in the last two games. Crosby scored the game-winning goal on Thursday and Malkin had a goal has well. Malkin actually has 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in the last two games. The big question mark all season for the Pittsburgh Penguins has been the defense, and that problem is magnified with Olli Maatta out of the lineup for the next 3-4 weeks. The good news is that the bottom pairing of Ian Cole and Adam Clendening had a very nice game on Thursday, but Marc-Andre Fleury is still going to have to continue to shoulder the load in Maatta’s absence.
The Sharks appear to be a very streaky team, and are looking for their season high of five wins in a row. They had a four-game winning streak to start the season as well, but had a stretch of 3-8-0 sandwiched in between their winning streaks. Martin Jones has played really well for the Sharks this season, and he has been their best player over their recent winning streak. He will be coming into the game feeling very confident as he earned his third shutout of the season on Thursday night against the Flyers. Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks in goals at 10 and points with 18. Joel Ward is having a very nice season for the Sharks with 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists), after coming over from the Washington Capitals in the offseason. I mentioned the Sharks have struggled on the penalty kill this season, but they have struggled on the power play as well. That unit is ranked 28th in the NHL this season, though they have scored three goals in their last three games. The Sharks haven’t been particularly impressive in any area this season, but coming into tonight’s contest, they find themselves two points behind the Kings to lead the Pacific division.
Each team is looking to extend their winning streaks tonight in Pittsburgh. The game has a lot of star power on both sides, and it should be a fun contest. The game may come down to special teams. Who can score on the power play? Which penalty kill holds up the best? The Penguins have had a much better penalty kill unit this season, but they have struggled as of late. Then again, don’t be surprised to see either starting goaltender — Marc-Andre Fleury or Martin Jones — in the three stars of the game for the winning team. Maybe this four-game home stand is exactly what the Penguins needed to jump start their stars, and jump start their season.
Thanks for reading. Puck drops at 7PM on ROOT sports.