PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Times Forum, 7:00 PM, Root Sports
Perhaps the only team more surprisingly bad than the Hurricanes has been the Tampa Lightning. Few teams have a more comprehensive collection of offensive talent, they traded away the frontrunner for the Calder Trophy, Cory Conacher, because they still had a bunch of top-6 type wingers. They have a good combination of grizzled veterans and skilled young defensemen, what they lack is goaltending, and coaching, and passion, and all the intangibles that make a team great.
It’s almost a shame, but not really, because the Lightning suck, Tampa sucks, and their jerseys are the weirdest shade of blue. For some reason I can’t explain I actually have a lot of respect for Steven Stamkos, but to put it into perspective, he’s still 6 points off from Sid’s total and Sid hasn’t played in a week and a half.
As per Josh Yohe Kris Letang has resumed skating with the number one power play unit. That does make it sound likely that the Lone Tanger will be back in the lineup tonight. You have to think that he will do his even strength skating with Brooks Orpik and the newly reconfigured (again) top power play will be Kunitz-Malkin-Iginla up front and Tanger and Nisky together on the back end. One of them will probably have to go the full two minutes, but that’s okay. Feels like a million years since the Pens last played so I’m sure MAF will go again tonight.
The Pens don’t have a lot to play for: they’ve already won their division, and a top two seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course winning the first seed in the East would be huge, we wrote last game about how big the advantage has become for the Penguins on home ice. A win tonight moves them closer to that goal.
Settle in. Go Pens.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Tampa Bay Lightning
Consol Energy Center, 7:30 PM, Root Sports, NBC Sports (Local Blackout)
Hey Geno is going to be back in the lineup tonight. He’s been symptom free for a week, he took contact during practice yesterday, and he passed his ImPACT test. We would have been okay with resting Geno for a couple more games (read until after the Pens play in Philly on Thursday, there’s a lot of guys on that team that I could see risk suspension and target his head) but we’re certainly not disappointed to see the league’s reigning MVP return. I’ve been talking with people all day and we hope this can serve as a turning point for Geno this year: no doubt he’s been good, but he hasn’t been great, we want to see him come back and be great. He should be better rested than he has been and he should be champing at the bit if he wants to earn the most lucrative annual contract in the NHL’s history this offseason.
Of course, unfortunately in order to make room for Geno someone needed to get the boot from the NHL roster. At this time the only two guys who can be sent to the minors with no fear of being lost are Simon Despres and Beau Bennett. Well Despres has been incredibly good so he’s not going anywhere, so despite the fact that Bennett has posted .375 points per game and a 12.5% shooting percentage, he got the boot. Now we hate Tyler Kennedy just like everybody else, and sure it would have been convenient for the Pens to try to pass him through waivers, but there is actually a nice message that Shero didn’t try just that. Refer back to this holy text from Mike Colligan, since Shero didn’t try to pass Kennedy through waivers that means that there is a trade potential for Kennedy. And that’s good. Nonetheless, we really wouldn’t mind seeing Zach Boychuck play tonight.
Still no Paul Martin so Mark Eaton will continue to play, we just desperately hope he’ll look as good as he did in Montreal. Obviously Despres will stay in the lineup given that he played stellar against Montreal and the Pens are a better team with him in the lineup. Fleury in the cage, and I’m really sick of people saying that “Fleury’s pissed that he didn’t get to start in Montreal.” Is that what he said? Is it really? Even if he said anything it was probably more like, “well sure, Montreal is really close to hometown, would be nice to get the start, but we gotta roll with two goalies, so Vokoun got the start instead.” I have no idea, but I’m sure MAF didn’t get mad about anything.
Crosby v. Stamkos, would really be awesome to see Sid open up a 4 or 5 point lead in the scoring race by the end of the night.
So much going on with the Penguins so screw the Lightning.
Ride the Lightning. Go Pens.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Tampa Bay Lightning
Consol Energy Center, 7:30 PM, Root Sports, NBC Sports
Finally a new team, and finally I remembered to make up the gameday header. The Pens face the Tampa Bay Lightning today and the major stories surrounding today’s game all involve some measure of karmic irony.
If you haven’t heard, the Pens fear that Evgeni Malkin has a concussion. The game after Sidney Crosby suffered his concussion at the hands of David Steckel was played against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the game after Evgeni Malkin suffered a (probable) concussion, the Pens will be playing the Tampa Bay Lightning. The first time around the Pens seemingly didn’t do the right thing–they let Sid play, and in so doing set him up for another devastating hit from behind by Tampa’s Victor Hedman. The Pens will not be letting history repeat itself, Geno has been ruled out indefinitely and that’s perhaps the best thing they can do.
ThePensBlog have come out with a satirization of the Pittsburgh media’s likely overreaction to a lack of news regarding Geno. Sure enough Dejan published his editorial this morning on how the Penguins were doing well with the media this time around. We don’t really care which side you come down on (full disclosure by the organization or thinking that they have the right to say whatever they want about the situation), hopefully this is nothing serious and the whole thing will be resolved in weeks instead of months with Geno returning to the ice.
Geno’s concussion seems to be evidence of the “Hockey Gods” hearing the prayers of the Pittsburgh faithful that wanted to see Dustin Jeffrey in the lineup everyday after he scored in Friday night’s tilt against the Panthers. Jazzy Jeff will be in the lineup and he’s slated to skate on the third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. To accommodate Geno’s injury the Pens are really redrawing their lines, we expect the following:
NHL.com ran an article, in which they tried to be clever, that somehow suggested it would be a challenge for James Neal to play with Sid. Haha sure. We are a little surprised to see Jeffrey slotting in on the third line and the Pens moving Sutter up: no doubt about it, in Geno’s absence Sutter is the Pens’ second best center, but we would prefer to see the Pens keep him in a shutdown role and see what Jeffrey can do to make plays. The Pens are expected to stick with the same defensive configuration and Marc-Andre Fleury in net.
The Lightning come into this game in first place in the Southeast Division with an overall record of 9-7-1. They started the year really hot but have since cooled down. Steven Stamkos enters the game tied with James Neal for the league lead in goals (12) and one point ahead of Sidney Crosby for the league lead in points (26). They also have the league’s best rookie, Corey Conacher, and the league’s best geriatric, Martin St. Louis, what they don’t have a lot of is good defense and goaltending. Anders Lindback, their biggest offseason acquisition, has a GAA over 3 and a save percentage under .900, hopefully the Pens should be able to keep their scoring ways going without Geno.
This could be the first time since his rookie season that Sid would have to play an extended period of time without Geno, hopefully he can do what Geno has always done in Sid’s absence: dominate.
Ride the Lightning. Go Pens.