Key Observations Heading Into Game 55 Between the Penguins and Senators

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-8) scored a goal last night. In fact they scored four of them in an impressive 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at CONSOL Energy Center. It was refreshing to see the team bounce back after a brutal 5-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. The Penguins got another step closer to a healthy roster last night with the return of forward Blake Comeau, who missed 20 games as a result of a wrist injury. No one would have expected much out of Comeau after recovering from a tough injury like that. The wrists are very important to a hockey player, but Comeau showed no signs of pain last night, notching a goal and an assist in the win. He was also named the “First Star” of the game. With a $700,000 cap hit this season, Comeau is still one of the best bargains this season and it doesn’t look like he will stop producing anytime soon. He played on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. After a performance like that in addition to what he did before the injury, Mike Johnston has no reason to remove Comeau from the top-six at this point. Originally signed as a bottom-six forward, Comeau has shown he can be much more than that. He produces offensively, is responsible in his own zone and seems to be well liked in the locker room as well.

Hornqvist, Nick Spaling and David Perron scored the other goals for Pittsburgh. That’s right, Jim Rutherford. All four goal scorers last night were brought in this season by you. In my opinion, Rutherford has done a great job of addressing the needs of this hockey team and I’m very interested to see what he has up his sleeve before the trade deadline. With Comeau back in the fold, this team looks a lot better up front. Rutherford’s attention may be directed towards the blue line now. Christian Ehrhoff is still injured, but even when he does come back, there still is a hole. Kris Letang and Paul Martin have been amazing together so we all know nothing will change with that pairing. And I also have to say that Rob Scuderi and Simon Despres have been really good together. Scuderi’s contract isn’t the best out there, but the Penguins are definitely getting much more out of him this season than they did last year. When Ehrhoff is ready to come back, he will obviously be on the second defensive pairing, but who will join him? Robert Bortuzzo adds some edge to Pittsburgh’s defense, but he has struggled a bit this season. Derrick Pouliot has shown some flashes of brilliance, but is he ready to be thrown into the fire as a rookie? There definitely are some big question marks there, which makes the Olli Maatta injury much tougher to swallow. I would not be shocked if Rutherford is working the phones in an attempt to land another defenseman. After all, all Stanley Cup teams need about 7-8 good defensemen to last until June.

The Penguins will look to win their second game in as many nights tonight in Ottawa against the Senators (21-22-9), who are coming off a 2-1 win over Buffalo on Tuesday night. This will be their second of three meetings this season. On December 6th, the Penguins defeated the Senators 3-2 on an Ehrhoff overtime goal at CONSOL Energy Center. Malkin scored two goals in that game for the Penguins while David Legwand and Mika Zibanejad scored for Ottawa. Two days following that game, the Senators fired head coach Paul MacLean, who won the Jack Adams Award in 2013. Assistant coach Dave Cameron was promoted to replace MacLean. Senators fans should not expect a fast turnaround since things take time when a coaching change is made. The Senators are currently 12 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and are 4-5-1 in their last ten games. While the team hasn’t performed as well as they would like, Senators forward Bobby Ryan has been great this year for Ottawa. In October, the team signed Ryan to a seven-year deal worth $50.75 million. It appears that the new long-term contract has helped Ryan feel more comfortable because he played in his first All-Star Game this year in Columbus. Ryan currently leads all Ottawa players in points with 37 (14 goals and 23 assists). He sat out Tuesday night’s game after having muscle cramps. As usual, defenseman Erik Karlsson is having another great year on the blue line with 13 goals and 23 assists in 52 games. It’s always fun to see Karlsson and Letang share the same ice since they are two of the most exciting players at their position. Both of them could be competing for the Norris Trophy this season and beyond. One guy who is flying under the radar a bit is forward Mike Hoffman, who currently leads the Senators with 17 goals this season. Hoffman was drafted in the fifth round by the Senators in the 2009 NHL Draft.

It appears goaltender Robin Lehner will get the start in goal for the Senators tonight. Lehner has recorded an 8-11-2 record with a 2.94 goals-against average in 22 games this season. Craig Anderson, who has not played since January 21st, was in goal for Ottawa in Pittsburgh earlier this season, allowing 3 goals on 33 shots. This will be Lehner’s third appearance against Pittsburgh. Since Marc-Andre Fleury started for the Penguins last night, Thomas Greiss will most likely get the nod in goal tonight for the Penguins. Greiss has really struggled lately as the German goaltender has allowed at least three goals in his past six starts. He allowed five goals on Saturday night against Vancouver and will look to rebound tonight against the Senators, whom he is 1-0 in his career against.

Tonight’s game may not seem like a big game, but it is an important one. The Penguins’ biggest problem this season has been consistency and it would be very refreshing to see them play really well two nights in a row.