Three Observations Heading Into Game 80 Between the Penguins and Red Wings

The Pens Nation Gameday Report

First Round Preview?

If the regular season ended today, the Penguins would be playing the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs.  Detroit is a team that, like the Penguins, has been plagued with injuries all year.  They’ve been without the services of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, among others, for long stretches.  Despite the injuries, they find themselves sitting on the edge of the playoffs.  If you look at most statistical categories you’ll find Detroit in the middle of the league.  Stats, however, don’t always tell the full story, especially when injuries have such a large effect on your numbers.  Pittsburgh and Detroit know each other well.  They managed to do something that’s rare in the NHL – they built a rivalry despite playing in separate conferences.  Now that Detroit is in the East, and a first round matchup seems likely, the rivalry that was beginning to fade without a Stanley Cup Finals meeting can now be reignited. It will be interesting to see how the Penguins approach this game since they have already locked up the second seed in the East. If they want to avoid facing the Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs, they should play hard to win the game to give Columbus a chance to take over the top wild card spot.

The Letang Factor

The question that many had been asking since Kris Letang suffered a stroke on January 29th was finally answered this morning. Letang will return to the lineup tonight against Detroit, Ray Shero announced. Since Letang has been out of the lineup for so long, this changes the dynamic of this Pittsburgh team. These next three games will force the Penguins to get used to him back in the lineup before the playoffs begin. Since Letang is a player who likes to have the puck, having him back will force some other players to adjust. He will be paired with Rob Scuderi, as expected. Pairing those two has been the plan since the beginning of the season, but both players have been injured this season. Therefore, they have not played a large amount of games together. Letang is probably one of the most conditioned players on the Penguins and has looked great in practice. We will see if that translates into the next few regular season games and further.

Neutralize Nyquist

When you think of the Detroit Red Wings, you think of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Gustav Nyquist should also probably be on that list. The 24 year-old has scored 23 goals in 30 games since January 20th and has helped the team win despite having so many injuries. The 2008 4th-round pick leads the Red Wings in goals with 28 and recently had a 10-game point streak snapped. When these two teams last met on March 20th, Nyquist picked up his 20th goal of the season on the power play and added an assist. With the Penguins getting healthier on defense, tonight should be a good test for them. Another player who has stepped up for Detroit is goaltender Jimmy Howard. Howard, who has had a down year, is starting to click at the right time. He has won his last four games, allowing only 8 goals in the process. However, backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson will start in goal for the Red Wings tonight. Gustavsson is 2-4-1 against Pittsburgh in his career. The Red Wings are one point away from clinching a playoff spot.