Penguins look to keep cooking at home
LIGHTNING (2-2-2) at PENGUINS (6-1-0)
-- The Pens took the 2008-09 series 3-1-0, but the final game on April 7 may have provided the most thrills. After the Penguins went up 4-0 early in the third period, the Bolts struck back with three unanswered goals, cutting the Pittsburgh lead to 4-3, then 5-4 with 21 seconds left. An empty-netter sealed the 6-4 win for the Pens.
-- Wins might seem old hat for the Penguins, who return home after a sensational 4-0 road swing and a franchise record-setting five in a row on the road, but those wins came against such tough opponents as the Flyers, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs and Senators. So a nice long homestand is welcome no matter how well the team played. And they'll get it, with their next five in Mellon Arena, a short trip to Columbus on Oct. 30, the Wild at home the following night, and finally a trip out west to Anaheim on Nov. 3.
The Lightning's current road trip is shorter but not exactly a holiday either. The first stop was in Ottawa, and coach Rick Tocchet referred to the game video as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" with good reason. The Senators took control early and dominated the Bolts in a 7-1 win, ending Tampa Bay's three-game winning streak.
-- There was very little positive to take from Thursday's thumping save for the fact that nobody got injured. Tocchet ran the team through that "Picture Show" of a video meeting on Friday before a hard practice. He also gave top goalie Mike Smith a vote of confidence, telling the St. Petersburg Times, "He's our guy, but he has to perform. He knows it. There's no entitlement here. That's the one thing we changed here. You're not entitled to anything.
"Having said that, Smitty has played well for us. It's not like he lost his job or anything."
Regardless, Antero Niittymaki, with wins against Carolina and Florida in his pocket, will get the nod against the Penguins.
One of the top lines will have a slightly different look as well, as Steve Downie will join Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay, a reward for consistent play and reflecting a need to get more production out of a line that has produced no goals so far.
-- When you're winning like the Penguins are, you can concentrate on other things, like their record last year with the blue third jersey they'll be wearing Saturday night. It's 3-5-2 if you're wondering.
"I think it's a coincidence, I guess," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
said to pittsburghpenguins.com. "Maybe I will try wearing a black shirt underneath. Maybe a black shirt would be good luck."
That, combined with the way teams tend to struggle at home immediately after a long road trip, head coach Dan Bylsma suggested the team can benefit in a way from wearing the sweater.
"That’s why we’ve planned to wear the light blue jerseys (laughs). We figure two negatives make a positive. There is some evidence that coming back from a road trip, you’re back home, you take a deep breath and come out not as hard, not as focused. We’re talking about the mental side of it. Certainly different teams are different in that regard."
-- The numbers don't show up on hockey cards, but Lightning center Zenon Konopka, who entered this season with only 39 NHL games' experience, has proven to be a valuable weapon on faceoffs, winning 22 of 36 for a 61 percent clip.
Sometimes when an entire team is as hot as the Penguins, the goalie's performance gets taken for granted. As many have been saying especially since last year's playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury
has done more than vault himself to the A-list of goalkeeping. He's now a legitimate NHL star regardless of position. He's 6-0-0 with a 2.27 GAA going into Saturday night's action.
-- Tampa Bay has allowed the first goal in each of its six games so far. Their 17 shots in the Ottawa loss is a season low and the first time they dipped below 30. 12 of the Bolts' 16 goals so far have come from the line of center Steven Stamkos and wingers Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone.
-- Both teams have gotten through their first two weeks of the season largely intact.
-- The Pens and Bolts will both say they are teams looking to establish an identity early in the season, but it's clear at the moment who's further along in that regard. Priority one for the Penguins is not let up after their road conquest, while the Lightning look to get all their lines going against one of the toughest teams in the league.
-- Matt Mankiewich, NHL.com