It's here. The dreaded set of back-to-back games that nobody in Nashville has been looking forward to. First up, the Nashville Predators visit the Steel City to face the Metropolitan leading Pittsburgh Penguins. It's been so long since these two have played each other, that there was chatter about it being a possible preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Oh, the good old days.
Pittsburgh has remained one of the league's very best teams, while Nashville has struggled just to keep its head above water. Without a dynamic roster to match, there isn't a whole lot between a set of teams that is only meeting for the 18th time. (If you're curious, the Preds are 9-5-1 with two ties all time, but the Pens have won the last two meetings.)
Despite having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their team, the Penguins are only ahead of the Washington Capitals by one point in the Metro, and have lost three in a row. Their most recently loss came at the hands of the terrible, yet surging, Flyers. They've also only scored three goals in their last three games. However, this is a team that can offensively wake up at any time.
Crosby is tied with David Backes to lead the entire league with 24 points. James Neal, who has spent most of the season injured, is back on the ice. Neal finished last year's season with 36 points, and cracked 40 goals the year before that. To say he's had success in black and gold is putting it mildly.
#18 / Right Wing / Pittsburgh Penguins
Sep 03, 1987
|2013 - James Neal||3||0||1||1||-2||0||0||0||0||7||0.0|
Then there's the so called "so called superstar" Evgeni Malkin, who only has three goals this year. The former Art Ross winner has scored 30 or more goals four times in his career, with one of those seasons hitting the 50 mark. It's possible his injury history could be a factor in moving toward a more "pass friendly" style of play. Even with his lack of goals, he still has 13 helpers on the season.
The Pens are also playing a back-to-back, so either goalie is likely to start tonight. Jeff Zatkoff has only played three NHL games in his career, and is filling in for Tomas Vokoun, who had a big scare earlier this year. The other side of the coin is Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been great. He has a .921 SV% and a 2.01 GAA, but it hasn't been about his regular season numbers since after 2009.
I swear, Patric Hornqvist has looked like the only Predator who wants to win some damn games recently. Hornqvist has been the only Nashville player to score a goal in three (!) games. He's playing so well right now, in fact, that he could hit 30 goals if the guys around him help him out. Right now he's on pace for 23.
#27 / Right Wing / Nashville Predators
Jan 01, 1987
|2013 - Patric Hornqvist||18||5||6||11||0||10||1||0||2||54||9.3|
Maybe Kid Sweden can help, as he was just recalled from AHL Milwaukee. Filip Forsberg is getting back into the lineup after being shipped down following the Colorado game last week. It's really frustrating to think about. On one hand, what does sending him down for a week really do in the long term? Especially when before that he was playing with Matt Hendricks and Paul Gaustad. However, it was on a line with those two that he scored his only even-strength point all season. It's going to be more beneficial for his development, (and for the entire team) to solidify line combinations for more than a couple of games and play him with players that compliment his skill set.
I'll give you a moment to bawl while I mention Pekka Rinne hasn't miraculously recovered, and then a moment for us to send his hip some love rays. Mike Fisher has also started skating, but isn't participating in contact yet. For the Penguins, defensemen Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin are out as well as Chuck Kobasew.
Tonight's tilt is on Sports South at 6 p.m. CST. One a scale of one to Spongebob, how ready are you?