Published on February 13th, 2013 | by James Conley0
Penguins Precap 14: Ottawa Senators
The Pittsburgh Penguins followed up a five-game winning streak with two straight losses and haven’t scored a regulation goal in almost a week. They’ll try to do so Wednesday against the league’s hottest goaltender in Craig Anderson, who has single-handedly kept the Jason Spezza-less Ottawa Senators (7-4-2, 16 points) in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.
Pittsburgh (8-5-0, 16 points) won the first meeting of the season between these clubs with a 3-for-3 shootout clinic in January. They’ll need to win the second to remain ahead of the Senators for fifth place in the East.
Ottawa is coming off a 2-0 shutout win over Buffalo Tuesday, playing their second game in as many days Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Penguins 2, Ottawa 1 (SO)
Pittsburgh’s even-strength goal scoring has become a concern. The team hasn’t scored in five-on-five play since facing Washington last Thursday, and five of their last seven tallies have come on the man-advantage. Evgeni Malkin and James Neal have combined for three ES goals all season. The musical chair on their left wing has accounted for exactly zero (zero points, even).
With a flurry of moves already having taken place in the shortened season, Zach Boychuk can’t continue to miss the net on the second line. He has yet to tally a point in six games on the second line, although in fairness he has yet to see any power play time.
To be even more fair, Malkin has already found chemistry with a former snakebitten newcomer in Neal. Neal had two goals in 26 regular season and playoff games in Pittsburgh in 2011 after being acquired from Dallas. Niskanen, too, had a difficult transition to the Pittsburgh system.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t capable players in waiting in the form of Dustin Jeffrey, Beau Bennett or perhaps a trade. Boychuk has potential, but has got to show an ability to finish plays soon.
Now settled in, those two have turned the Alex Goligoski trade one of the most lopsided in recent years. Boychuk may not have the luxury of time to fit in with Pittsburgh, especially if their $14-plus million second line continues to take penalties and fail to score at even strength.
However, Boychuk has talent. He should continue to get looks for at least a while longer. But not forever.
Letang and Niskanen were activated from injured reserve Wednesday morning, sending Dylan Reese back to AHL Wilkes-Barre. Neither is a sure thing to play against Ottawa, although it sounds as though Letang has a good chance to play tonight.
Both are game-time decisions.
New Jersey was able to expose Pittsburgh’s young defenders with a vicious forecheck in back-to-back weekend games, forcing the rookies into rushed passes and back breakouts. Ottawa has nowhere near the depth at forward that New Jersey does, but having Letang back in the line-up (and potentially Niskanen) will allow the top-four to take the pressure plays from Ottawa’s best forecheckers, especially with last change.
With Ottawa playing excellent defense but hurting up front, Pittsburgh should see a much different opponent than the one that nursed them to sleep twice over the weekend.
Audio Courtesy Jason Seidling & Pittsburgh Penguins