Pens, Wings meet in Motown
Sunday, 03.20.2011 / 7:09 PM
NHL.comPENGUINS (41-23-8) at RED WINGS (43-21-8)
-- TSN2 (HD), RIS, VERSUS (HD)
-- Pittsburgh 5-3-2; Detroit 5-3-2.
-- Pittsburgh took the only meeting earlier this season between the two-time Finals opponents, winning 4-1 at the Consol Energy Center on Jan. 18.
-- With the postseason approaching, neither Pittsburgh nor Detroit seems in danger of missing out, but much is still left to be decided in terms of seeding in both the Eastern and Western Conference. In addition to the obvious ramifications in the standings, Pittsburgh and Detroit are just 21 months removed from their second consecutive meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. The Pens and Wings split their two championship tilts, but plenty of memories remain on both sides.
-- In many ways its remarkable that Pittsburgh is still in line to host a first-round playoff series given the significant absences of both Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
, but despite those notable injuries, the Penguins are fourth in the East with an outside shot at taking the Atlantic from Philadelphia. Those hopes might have taken a big hit Sunday, however, when the division rivals upended the Pens with a four-goal third period, handing Pittsburgh a 5-2 loss that seemed far-fetched after the Penguins took the lead on Chris Kunitz
's short-handed goal in the third period.
Kunitz, for his part, has been producing at a steady rate with six points in his last three games, while the Pens have won four of their last six. But there should be some urgency in the steel city, as Tampa Bay is just one point behind Pittsburgh and could very well overtake the Pens for home ice in the opening round. If the Pens are to prevent that possibility, it would help to get a bounceback performance from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
, who uncharacteristically gave up four goals against New York Sunday, well above his 2.38 goals-against average this season.
-- There seems to be little chance that Detroit could move up in the standings at this point. The Wings sit nine points back of Vancouver in the chase for the top seed in the West, but the closest contenders in the Central, Chicago and Nashville, are each a fair distance back of the Winged Wheel in the standings. With that being the case, the last three weeks of the season should be dedicated to getting healthy for the postseason, and given a litany of injuries Detroit is currently managing, that certainly seems a good idea.
Pavel Datsyuk was out of the lineup Saturday with a lower-body injury, and he very well could have altered was wound up being a 3-1 loss to Nashville, but the Wings are headly struggling. Prior to that loss, Detroit had won four in a row as it coasts to a likely division title. Monday night's game will open up a five-game homestand, which should give the Wings ample opportunity to collect a few more wins as they get ready for spring.
-- No player can fill the vacuum left by Crosby or Malkin, but Jordan Staal
is certainly trying. The pivot has seven points in his last six games ... Henrik Zetterberg is doing what he can to keep the beat up Wings afloat with three points in his last three games.
-- Detroit could be without Ruslan Salei (personal reasons), Jiri Hudler (illness), Pavel Datsyuk (lower-body injury) and Johan Franzen (undisclosed reasons), who are all listed as questionable for Monday, while Chris Osgood (groin) is expected to be unavailable in net. Pittsburgh may have gotten some good news after Crosby (concussion) ran some drills and skated in full pads Sunday morning, though his return is still uncertain. In addition, the Pens are still without Brooks Orpik
(broken finger), who will be out at last another week, while Arron Asham
(concussion) and Mark Letestu
(upper-body injury) may both be out after missing Sunday's game against New York.
-- In his second full season, Jimmy Howard has continued to look like a strong goaltender for the forseeable future, and his recent play should only reaffirm that notion. Howard has won three of his last four starts, compiling a 1.98 GAA and a .934 save percentage in that stretch.
-- More will be at stake Monday night for Pittsburgh than Detroit, but there is no love lost between these two, who have about as big a rivalry as teams in opposing conferences can have. With this the last time they're scheduled to meet this season, expect the Pens and Wings to get their last punches in -- unless they meet yet again in June.