The Penguins begin the last week of the regular season (and a stretch of three games in four nights) on Monday in Ottawa. The seventh-place Senators are a possible first-round matchup for Pittsburgh in the playoffs, as they and the eighth-place Rangers are tied with 52 points (Ottawa has played one fewer game than New York, who eliminated the Devils from the playoffs on Sunday).
The Senators might just get the reigning Norris Trophy winner back into their lineup before the postseason. Defenseman Erik Karlsson suffered a lacerated Achilles tendon in a collision with Matt Cooke in Ottawa’s last game against Pittsburgh on February 13. Karlsson, who had six goals and 10 points in 14 games played, underwent surgery the next day. It was thought he’d need six months to recover and would miss the rest of the season, but he returned to team practice on Friday – just nine weeks later. Senators general manager Bryan Murray told reporters that day that Karlsson is 100 percent and his focus right now is on getting back into game shape. While there is no official timetable for his return, it’s looking like it could be soon.
The Senators have been able to maintain playoff position all season despite missing star players to long-term injuries. And while center Jason Spezza remains out after undergoing back surgery in January, Karlsson is close and both Milan Michalek and Craig Anderson are back. Last year’s leading goal scorer Michalek, who has missed a total of 24 games this season due to injury, has two goals and three points in four games since returning. Goalie Anderson played April 7 after missing 18 games with a sprained ankle and has won three of his last four starts (the Senators have won four of their last five).
Anderson, who is backed up by Robin Lehner as the team traded Ben Bishop to Tampa Bay for rookie forward Cory Conacher at the deadline, leads the league in both save percentage (.944) and goals against average (1.64). He’s the anchor of a defense that ranks second in the NHL despite losing top defenseman Karlsson. Anderson is also the anchor of what is currently the league’s top-ranked penalty kill. Defensemen Marc Methot and Chris Phillips along with forward Erik Condra also play key roles in shorthanded situations.
Milan Michalek - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Cory Conacher - Mika Zibanejad - Jakob Silfverberg
Colin Greening - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Erik Condra
Matt Kassian - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Patrick Wiercioch - Sergei Gonchar
Marc Methot - Chris Phillips
Jared Cowan - Eric Gryba
SENATORS: CORY CONACHER
Pittsburgh has seen Conacher twice this season, but Monday will be the first time in a Senators jersey as he was traded to Ottawa at the deadline for goalie Ben Bishop. Conacher has played seven games for the Senators and has points in each of his last three. The rookie forward scored the game-winning goal on April 18 versus Washington – helping break the Capitals’ eight-game winning streak – and assisted on Ottawa’s only goal in a 4-1 loss to Toronto in their last game.
PENGUINS: CHRIS KUNITZ
Kunitz’s consistency this season has been staggering. He is one of just two NHL players (Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis is the other) who have yet to go back-to-back games without a point. Kunitz, whose 21 goals lead the team, had a strong game on Saturday in Boston – especially on the power play. He assisted on Kris Letang’s game-winning PPG – Kunitz’s 400th point in the NHL – and provided a perfect screen on goalie Tuukka Rask that allowed Jarome Iginla’s shot to find the back of the net on the man-advantage. And not only is Kunitz helping the power play, but he’s been seeing some time on the penalty kill the last few games. It will be interesting to see if he gets minutes there Monday.
- Pittsburgh enters Monday’s game having gone 21-2 in its last 23 games. Pittsburgh’s 21 wins during that span is more victories than 12 NHL teams have won all season.
- A win Monday would allow the Penguins to finish with a perfect record against the Senators for the first time since 1995-96 (6-0-0).
- The Penguins have won both meetings against the Senators this season.
- Prior to this stretch, the Senators had won three straight games against Pittsburgh.
- Monday the Penguins begin their final set of back-to-back games. Thus far they are 8-4 in back-to-back – including 4-2 records on both ends.
HISTORY CAN BE MADE
Dan Bylsma can earn his 200th NHL coaching win with a Penguins victory Monday. With the Penguins’ next victory, Bylsma will become the fastest coach in NHL history to record 200 wins. Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau currently holds the mark after earning his 200th win in just his 326th game.
Tomas Vokoun sits one win shy of becoming the 28th goalie in NHL history to reach 300 career victories. Vokoun will also become just the 24th goalie to appear in 700 career games when he makes his next appearance.
The Penguins clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference with their 3-2 defeat of Boston on Saturday. This marks the first time the Penguins have earned the No.-1 seed since the NHL switched to its current playoff format prior to the 1993-94 campaign. The website sportsclubstats.com has assigned the following percentages to potential first-round opponents: NY Rangers (36%); Ottawa (27%); NY Islanders (24%); and Winnipeg (10%).
Pittsburgh enters Monday’s game having won four straight road games and nine of their last 10. During those 10 games, the Penguins have scored a total of 41 goals for an average of 4.1 tallies per game. The Penguins lead the NHL with 79 road goals this season. Pittsburgh’s 17 road wins is tied with Chicago for the NHL lead. Since Dan Bylsma took over as head coach on Feb. 15, 2009, the Penguins lead the NHL in road wins (93), road points (202) and road points percentage (.639).
ANOTHER WIN STREAK
The Penguins have won six-straight games entering Monday – the third time this season they have won five or more consecutive games. Pittsburgh established a NHL-season-high 15 straight wins between March 2-30 – tied for the second-longest winning streak of all-time. The Penguins also won five straight games from Jan. 31-Feb. 7. Pittsburgh’s win streak is the longest active streak in the NHL.
Pittsburgh used its high-powered power-play unit to secure a 3-2 win against Boston on Saturday. Jarome Iginla put the Penguins ahead 4:43 into the third period, and Kris Letang added the eventual game-winner on the man-advantage less than four minutes later. The Penguins have scored a power-play goal in four straight games - including three with multiple tallies (8-for-22; 36.4%). Pittsburgh currently places second in the NHL with a 24.4% success rate – trailing only the Washington Capitals (26.1%).
DOSE OF OFFENSE
Pittsburgh has withstood several injuries to its top offensive players over the past month thanks to the scoring contributions the team has received from its recent acquisitions. In the last 11 games dating back to March 26 – when Brenden Morrow became the first of the new players to debut – the Penguins have scored a total of 33 goals. Of those, 13 have been tallied by the new guys (39.4%).
FILLING THE NET
The Penguins enter Monday’s game with eight players having scored 10 or more goals this season – most in the NHL. Chris Kunitz leads the way with 21 tallies, followed by Pascal Dupuis (20), James Neal (18), Sidney Crosby (15), Jarome Iginla (12), Brenden Morrow and Brandon Sutter (11 each), and Jussi Jokinen (10).
Game notes courtesy of manager of communications Jason Seidling.
Evgeni Malkin, who has missed four straight games, did not make the trip to Ottawa with the team and is still day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Kris Letang did not practice on Sunday due to illness and coach Dan Bylsma said he is questionable to play against the Senators. Full practice update here.
F Sidney Crosby, broken jaw
F Evgeni Malkin, upper body
D Paul Martin, broken bone in hand
F James Neal, concussion
F Mike Hoffman, collarbone
D Erik Karlsson, achilles laceration
C Jason Spezza, back surgery