Bruins-Penguins preview: Strength vs. strength

Bruins-Penguins preview: Strength vs. strength
March 12, 2013, 5:00 pm
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PITTSBURGH -- It’s strength versus strength as the Penguins and Bruins collide at the CONSOL Energy Center for their first of three meetings this season. The Pens are averaging 3.65 goals per game, which leads the NHL by a wide margin, and Sidney Crosby has been on fire with 11 points over his last four games. It'll be up to the Bruins' stingy defense to slow them down.

Crosby has actually pretty much been on fire all season, and Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and James Neal haven’t been that far behind him. Sure the Penguins will miss the presence of Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup with an upper body injury, and that means the Bruins vaunted defense can focus on Crosby and his top-line friends. Expect for Sid the Kid to see a steady diet of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk as a defensemen pairing, and there should be plenty of Crosby versus Patrice Bergeron in the face-off circle throughout the night.

One area to watch: The Bruins will miss Chris Kelly on the penalty kill against a high-powered Pittsburgh PP unit and that could play out in the way the game unfolds. Then again, the Penguins have a better injury excuse with Malkin watching from the press box.

While the Montreal Canadiens are clearly in the mix as well, it’s no stretch to postulate that the Bruins and Penguins are tangling tonight -- and again next week -- for bragging rights as the top dog in the Eastern Conference. Senators coach Paul MacLean already has his choice.

“They just do everything right,” said MacLean. “They’re the best team, probably, in the league. From top to bottom, depth-wise, from the goaltender on out, they’re very good. They’re very hard to play against.

“They play the game and wear you out. They just keep coming over and over and over again. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best team in the East.”

The Black and Gold might not be the best team on Tuesday night, though, since the Penguins sat idle Monday night waiting for Boston to come to town. Meanwhile the Bruins were pushed to the shootout by the scrappy Senators, and roll into Pittsburgh banged up as their schedule reaches its heavy crescendo for the next six weeks.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: While Jordan Caron and Chris Kelly had a nice little breakthrough over the last couple of games for the third line, Rich Peverley is still stuck on three goals and a team-worst minus-8 this season. Peverley’s name has swirled among those on the Bruins roster that could get dealt if a major deadline trade comes down the pipe, but his value certainly isn’t peaking with the way that he’s played this season. Either way, Peverley is too skilled and gets too much ice time to not begin ratcheting up his production. Plus, he needs to lead a depleted third line with Kelly now likely out of the picture for a bit with a left leg injury.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “I’ve caught the Penguins a few times on television and it’s obvious they’re playing very good hockey right now. We need to take care of business first in Ottawa, but that should be a good challenge.” – Chris Kelly on facing Pittsburgh. Kelly suffered a left leg injury against the Sens on Monday and likely won’t get the chance to suit up against the Penguins.  
KEY MATCHUP: With Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup it will be Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk -- and probably Patrice Bergeron’s line on most shifts -- against Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis for the balance of the evening. It should be worth the price of admission to watch Chara battle with Crosby now that the face of the NHL is back to full strength as the league’s leading scorer. Normally defense and good goaltending would beat offense in a game like this, but the rested Pens are catching the Bruins on the second night of back-to-back games after pushing the shootout on Monday night in Ottawa. The Penguins are averaging a pretty intimidating 3.65 points per game this season.
STAT TO WATCH: 45 – That's the number of points for Crosby this season as the NHL’s leading scorer through 26 games. The Penguins center is enjoying a monster season, but is one of four Pitt players in the top 20 in NHL scoring including defenseman Kris Letang.
INJURIES: The Bruins suffered their first significant injury in weeks when Chris Kelly had to leave Monday night’s game in Ottawa with a left leg injury after a knee-on-knee hit with Chris Neil. Kelly is not expected to be in the lineup against the Penguins. Reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin is expected to miss 1-2 weeks with an upper body injury.
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: The Bruins have split up the goaltending duties for each of their back-to-back games this season, and there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case again against the Penguins. Anton Khudobin is 4-1 with a 2.41 goals against average and .910 save percentage, and has been excellent handling the intermittent playing time as Rask’s backup this season. For the Penguins, Dan Bylsma stated early on Tuesday that Marc-Andre Fleury will be getting the start for Pittsburgh looking to build on a 13-5 record with pedestrian 2.71 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.