|Pittsburgh Penguins||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Close SF/60||30.6||11th||30.0||13th|
|5-on-5 Close SA/60||28.0||11th||27.5||4th|
|5-on-5 Close Save %||.928||11th||.906||28th|
|# of PP's/Gm||3.33||16th||3.05||28th|
|# of PK's/Gm||3.07||6th||3.03||3rd|
The Penguins are in cruise control these days, with the Metropolitan Division lead firmly in their grasp (Philadelphia is 14 points back) and the primary focus being how the team can best position itself for a deep playoff run. Sidney Crosby has played every game this season, led Canada to an Olympic gold medal, and is leading the NHL scoring race by a wide margin.
So optimism should be riding high in Yinzerstan, right?
...at some point someone in Pittsburgh is going to say "Given that Crosby and Malkin were there when he got here, what HAS Ray Shero done to make the team better?" right? Pittsburgh's third and fourth lines were a disaster last year, their first without Jordan Staal (another player Pittsburgh just got by being terrible) and they're a mess again this year. They're markedly different than all of the other contenders. If the Pens lose in the playoffs, as they probably will, it will probably involve Crosby/Malkin having a few cold games (or Marc-Andre Fleury blowing up). When that happens, people will say "Gee, Malkin/Crosby/Fleury were terrible." Perhaps they should point out that Pittsburgh is trying to win with an abysmal bottom half of their team, which piles an awful lot of pressure on the other guys.
Hmm... maybe they'd be willing to offer a handsome parcel of assets for a certain veteran two-way center who has a familiarity with Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero?
The big news in Smashville, of course, is the expected return of Pekka Rinne to the Nashville net. Out since October with a hip infection, Rinne's absence has been one of the main factors behind the team's underwhelming performance this season (but by no means the only one). That said, it's too much to expect that with him back in goal, the Preds should expect to climb through the ranks. There are only 21 games left on the schedule and Nashville stands 6 points out of the playoffs, needing to pass four other teams to qualify for the post-season.
There is, quite simply, no margin for error. No time for Peks to acclimate himself to NHL action, no time for cold streaks by Nashville's leading scorers, no time for gaffes by young defensemen still learning the ropes.
|2013 - Pekka Rinne||9||493||4||4||1||19||2.31||229||210||.917||0|
One thing to remember, however, is that despite the public protestations we've seen channeled through multiple media outlets in recent days, there is a significant chance that this could be David Legwand's last game as a Nashville Predator. Tomorrow brings the NHL Trade Deadline, and as a pending unrestricted free agent, he could make a desirable trade target by a Stanley Cup contender.
So while you're cheering on Pekka Rinne tonight, take a moment to recognize David Legwand's franchise-defining run with the Preds as well. It could come to an end tonight.