Key Observations Heading Into Game 71 Between the Penguins and Stars

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The Pittsburgh Penguins are going through another rough patch. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games and have only scored a total of 1 goal the past 3 games. The Penguins were shut out by the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, which was no surprise given Pittsburgh’s history there. The Penguins got some good chances, but once again failed to cash in, which is becoming a theme with this team lately. How can a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang be struggling to score goals? It remains a mystery.

Although No. 71 and Patric Hornqvist will miss the 71st game of the season tonight, the Penguins will have a good opportunity to break out of their offensive slump against the Dallas Stars, who are giving up 3.23 goals per game. That is the third-worst mark in the league, trailing only Buffalo and Edmonton. The Stars (32-28-10) were expected to do a bit better this season than they have. With the acquisitions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky in the offseason to go along with young studs Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, expectations were extremely high. Unfortunately for Dallas fans, the Stars find themselves 8 points out of a playoff spot going into tonight’s game. The Stars score plenty of goals (currently have 9 players with 10+ goals), but they have struggled defensively, which has really cost them this season. Starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen has a 2.91 goals-against average and a .905 save-percentage. Dallas will need to improve their back end if they want any shot to make the playoffs. Speaking of their defense, former Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski is still playing in Dallas. He has been a healthy scratch a few times for the Stars, but he is expected to play tonight against some of his former teammates. Goligoski did not practice yesterday because of an illness.

The Penguins really need to get their confidence back and this is a great opportunity since it’s against a Western Conference team. Pittsburgh has a dominant record of 15-5-3 against the West this season. We’ll see how the lines shake out, but it looks like Chris Kunitz and David Perron will play with Crosby again tonight. Kunitz has really struggled of late, last scoring a goal on February 25th. He has only recorded 2 assists in 9 games this month. I know Beau Bennett has been invisible a lot lately, but why not give him some time with Crosby? He really has nothing to lose at this point. It’s not a huge deal if Mike Johnston decides not to do that, but mixing things up can’t hurt this team when they’re in a funk like this. Pittsburgh also would love to have a power play tonight, which is weird to say. They did not get a single opportunity with the man advantage on Tuesday against New Jersey. There were at least two penalties that should have been called, but the referees might have been giving the Penguins some payback after that disaster against Detroit. Regardless of the reasons why those penalties were not called, the Penguins need to just play their game and keep their composure out there. However, I have to admit that I’m getting sick of the non-calls on interference. There are way too many things that don’t get called and it’s hurting the overall product of the league. What happened to that “More offense” plan that was supposed to happen after the first lockout?

One thing that has flown under the radar this season is the goal scoring from the blue line or lack thereof. Last season, the Penguins had three defensemen that scored 9 goals (Olli Maatta, Matt Niskanen and Letang). This season, however, has been much different. It looks like Letang is the only one who will have at least 9 goals this season from the defensemen. More goals were expected from Christian Ehrhoff after signing him in the offseason. That hasn’t exactly worked out, but part of that is because he missed so much time after dealing with concussion symptoms. Ian Cole has a good shot and Paul Martin can contribute, but the Penguins really need some more offense from the defensemen. Derrick Pouliot, anyone? I’m sure he’ll be back once Malkin and Hornqvist return, but Pittsburgh could really use him now.

Tonight’s meeting will be the second and final one this season between the
Penguins and Stars. Dallas beat the Penguins 3-2  at CONSOL Energy Center in mid-October. Both of Pittsburgh’s goals came on the power play, when they were red hot with the man advantage. It would be nice to see that again, huh? The Penguins’ record when they score a power play goal is unbelievable. A goal with the man advantage tonight could give them some more confidence as we head into the last 11 games of the regular season. Enjoy the game, everyone! There will still be plenty of talent to watch tonight with Crosby, Seguin and Benn.