Key Observations Heading into Game 46 Between the Blackhawks and Penguins

Gameday - Game 46

Gameday – Game 46

By: Jim Meinecke

The Penguins seemingly can’t get to the All-Star break soon enough. After playing arguably their worst four periods of hockey this season (3rd period against the Islanders and the entire Rangers game), the Penguins had a grueling and frustrating game with the Flyers last night. After all was said and done, the teams combined for 93 penalty minutes. All-in-all it was an ugly contest and one that left the Penguins without Kris Letang for much of the game after a nasty hit from Zac Rinaldo (Game Recap can be seen here). To  be honest, the Penguins are probably lucky Letang was the only causality. With all that being said, it is not exactly a first game you would like to have in a back-to-back with any team, much less a team the caliber of the Blackhawks.

This will be the first of two meetings between the Penguins and Blackhawks. The Penguins will be at Consol for this contest, and then travel to Chicago on February 15 to close out the regular season series. The Penguins are 4-4-2 in their last ten games and 0-2-1 in their last three contests; all of which were against Metropolitan division foes. The team will look to end on a high note tonight before going into the All-Star break. One of the biggest ways that can happen is through the power play. It seemed the team was starting to click again after scoring a power play goal in four straight games until last night’s contest. The Penguins were 0-6, including a 5-minute major penalty, against the league’s worst penalty killing squad. It won’t be easy to rebound against the Blackhawks, who bolster the league’s 2nd ranked penalty killing unit. The return of Kris Letang, who participated in the morning skate today, would do wonders for the power play, but he will be a game-time decision per Head Coach Mike Johnston. While Letang skating in the optional skate this morning is great news, the Penguins would probably be wise to give Letang the night off and rest him through the all-star break. Derrick Pouliot was recalled this morning and looks to find a place in the lineup regardless of Letang’s status for tonight’s game. Bobby Farnham was sent back to the Baby Pens, as it appears Marcel Goc will return. The team will also look for some more scoring throughout the lineup. The only players to score in the past three games were Crosby, Perron, Kunitz, and Bennett.

The Blackhawks come into the contest with 60 points after a 6-1 blowout win against Arizona last night. They are in a similar boat with the Penguins, however. They have gone 5-5 in their last ten contests, and they haven’t won back-to-back contests since December 29. Fans in Pittsburgh always make light of the power play struggles with names like Crosby, Malkin, and Letang, and rightfully so. Chicago comes in with equal star power in Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Keith, but they have had struggles all season on the power play as well. They come in ranked 15th in the NHL at 18.6%, and have only scored three goals in their last seven contests. Unlike the Penguins, the Hawks are 12-4 against teams in their own division (Central), but they have struggled with the Metropolitan going 2-3-1 so far this season.

The teams will rely on Marc-Andre Fleury and Corey Crawford to keep scoring to a minimum against some of the league’s best stars. Both players sat out the first game of the back-to-back last night. Look for both teams to try to get on track with the power play and end the first half of the season strong going into the All-Star break. It should be a great contest at Consol with some perennial all-stars on both sides. Puck drop is at 8PM on NBCSports.