WHEN: Jan. 10, 2011 - 7:30 pm | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: Versus | LISTEN:Pens HD Radio, 105.9 FM
Overall: 21-12-7-49 Home: 9-7-3-21
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins
C - #46
• A talented playmaker, the 24-year-old center tallied 51 assists (tied for 14th in the league) and a team-leading 73 points in just his second NHL season in 2008-09.
• Won the NHL’s Plus-Minus Award at the conclusion of that campaign, finishing the season with a plus-37 rating.
• Has performed well against the Penguins over his career, tallying eight points (3G-5A) in 10 games played against Pittsburgh.
C - #19
• Made the jump directly to the NHL from the Ontario Hockey League this season after being selected second overall by the Bruins in last summer’s Entry Draft.
• Tallied 106 points (48G-58A) in 63 games with the Plymouth Whalers last season, tying Taylor Hall, now an Oilers rookie, for the OHL scoring title.
• Although the 18-year-old played center in juniors, he’s comfortable playing both there and on the wing, alternating between the two positions for the Bruins so far this season.
G - #30
.944 save %
• After playing four years at the University of Vermont from 1993-97, Thomas didn’t play his first full NHL season until the 2005-06 campaign at age 31 after stints in Sweden, Finland and the American Hockey League.
• Won the Vezina Trophy in 2009 as the NHL’s best goaltender after earning 36 wins and helping his team clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
• Utilizes an unconventional goaltending technique, playing more of a read-and-react type of game versus the traditional butterfly style.
As of Sunday, the Bruins sat at the top of the Northeast Division and in third place in the Eastern Conference with a 21-12-7 record. However, they’ll visit Pittsburgh on Monday having lost two-straight games, including an emotional overtime defeat at the hands of Montreal on Saturday.
Boston has been led all season by the play of goaltender Tim Thomas, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Thomas, 36, leads the NHL in most statistical categories, earning a .944 save percentage and a 1.84 goals-against average. He has an 18-4-6 record, with his five shutouts tied for first in the league.
Thomas has performed well against the Penguins over his career. He made a season-high 42 stops against Pittsburgh in the Bruins’ 7-4 win at CONSOL Energy Center on Nov. 10 and holds a 7-4 all-time record against the Penguins. But what may be even more impressive is the road record the Bruins goalie will bring to Pittsburgh on Monday, as Thomas is 11-1-4 in opposing teams' arenas.
Former Norris Trophy (best defenseman) winner Zdeno Chara anchors the formidable Boston blue line. The towering defenseman, who stands at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, ranks third in the NHL with an average of 26:38 of ice time per game. He’s dynamite on both the power play and penalty kill, leading the team in average time-on-ice in both of those situations.
The Bruins have established themselves as a defensively oriented team, which is emulated by their league-leading goals-against average of 2.15. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have offensive threats up top. Boston is one of those teams that can roll all four lines, featuring a dynamic mix of snipers like Nathan Horton, all-around players like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and veteran Mark Recchi. While forward Milan Lucic has been struggling lately, notching just one assist in his past 10 games, he still leads the team with 16 goals and 28 points.
The Penguins and the Bruins will face off twice in a six-day span in a home-and-home series. Pittsburgh will fly to Boston on Saturday to battle the Bruins at 1 p.m. at TD Garden.
Although the Bruins and the Penguins are the NHL’s top-two defensive teams, three of their last four games played in Pittsburgh have been high-scoring affairs. The Penguins won two of those three, with a 6-4 win on March 15, 2009 and a 6-5 overtime victory on Nov. 14, 2009, before falling to the Bruins 7-4 on November 10, 2010.
In 15 career games against Boston, Evgeni Malkin has tallied 18 points (10G-8A). He notched four points (1G-3A) in four games against the Bruins last season, adding a pair of helpers in the Penguins’ 7-4 loss to the Bruins on Nov. 10. Pascal Dupuis also enjoys facing the Bruins, as he scored three goals in four games against Boston in 2009-10.
Pittsburgh currently has the NHL’s No. 1-ranked penalty kill, thanks to a stretch where the Penguins killed off 12-straight opposition power plays and 23 of 25 (92 percent) over their past six games. They’ve now killed off 160 of 182 opposition power plays (87.9 percent) on the season. The Penguins also killed off their seventh-straight 5-on-3 against the Wild on Saturday, marking the fourth time in six games that they found themselves down two men. To top it off, the Penguins lead the league with seven shorthanded goals.
The Penguins are one of the league’s most physical teams, ranking second in the league with 1,148 total hits. They’ve outhit their opponents in six of their last seven games by a 201-146 margin, which averages out to 28.7 hits per game. Pittsburgh is led by bruising winger Matt Cooke, who has a team-leading 122 hits, good for 13th in the NHL. He’s followed by Brooks Orpik (109) and Craig Adams (95).
Everybody Steps Up: With leading scorer Sidney Crosby sidelined for about a week, the Penguins will need to get contributions from all over the lineup like they did in their 8-1 win over Tampa Bay on Jan. 5. Pittsburgh was led by a three-goal effort from Chris Kunitz, with Evgeni Malkin, Chris Conner, Mark Letestu and Tyler Kennedy all stepping up and scoring as well. Spreading out the scoring will be crucial to cracking an imposing Boston defense.
Outbattle the Bruins: The Bruins are fresh off a 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal on Saturday, where Boston had a 2-0 lead as the game wound down before the Canadiens scored twice in the final 2:22 of regulation to force extra time. Montreal outbattled the Bruins, and the Penguins are ready to do the same on Monday after being shut out by Minnesota on Saturday. “Guys want to play again,” Alex Goligoski said. “Everyone was (angry) after last game. Everyone’s anxious to get out and get another shot.”
F Mike Comrie, hip (IR)
F Sidney Crosby, mild concussion, (1 week)
F Eric Godard, eye (day-to-day)
F Nathan Horton, undisclosed (day-to-day)
D Mark Stuart, broken hand, (2 weeks)
Brooks Orpik - The 30-year-old defenseman has quietly been the anchor of the Penguins blue line, helping Pittsburgh earn its 2.30 goals-against average that ranks second in the NHL. Orpik has been plus or even in 26 of his last 28 games, posting a plus-14 rating over that stretch. He is an invaluable element to the Penguins’ No. 1-ranked penalty kill unit that’s clicking at an 87.9-percent success rate, as Orpik averages a team-leading 3:54 shorthanded minutes per game. His excellent shot blocking and punishing checks are crucial to shutting down opposing teams’ top players.
Patrice Bergeron - Bergeron scored both Bruins goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal on Saturday. He now has 12 points (5G-7A) in his past 11 games. The Bruins alternate captain excels in all situations, averaging 2:46 of ice time on the power play (tied for fourth on the team) and 2:06 of shorthanded ice time (second among Boston forwards). The center is also excelling in the faceoff dot, winning 391 draws for a 54.7-percent success rate.