With one more game to go before the NHL’s three-day Christmas break, the scorching-hot Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Ottawa Senators on Monday night at Canadian Tire Centre.
It’s almost become passe how the first-in-the-East Penguins (27-10-1, 55 points) have continued to win without valuable players like Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi on the ice, to say nothing of depth forwards Beau Bennett and Tanner Glass. Pittsburgh has won seven straight and 12 of 13 after their 4-3 defeat of Calgary on Saturday.
As expected, none of the aforementioned players skated on a top-four forward line or top-three defense pairing Monday morning in Ottawa, although Scuderi (broken ankle) and Orpik (concussion) alternated with suspended blueliner Deryk Engelland on the fourth pairing during drills.
There was no sign of Malkin, who has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury, or Letang, who hasn’t dressed for five in a row after surgery on an infected wound in his arm. It looks like it’ll be at least another game in the press box for both of those high-impact gentlemen, with the Penguins’ next game arriving Friday night in Carolina.
Crosby takes weekly honor after latest surge
Sidney Crosby has been one of the Penguins’ few constants in this season of significant injuries, which is a nice development for a guy who’s missed large swaths of games over the past three seasons with various health issues. Pittsburgh’s dynamic center has stepped on the accelerator lately, putting together a 10-game scoring streak that has seen him record seven goals and 11 assists.
Crosby was in fine form last week, scoring two goals and helping on six others as the Penguins went 4-0. For that effort, the 26-year-old was named the NHL’s second star of the week on Monday morning. Crosby continues to lead the league in scoring with 54 points, as his latest surge has pushed him six clear of Chicago winger Patrick Kane.
It’s been an all-around great season for Crosby, who is fifth in the NHL with 20 goals, tying him with Chris Kunitz for the team lead. No. 87 also has 34 assists, which is one ahead of Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and two up on Malkin for first in that category.
Senators’ approval ratings down
Although the Penguins routinely vanquished the Senators in five games in last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal round, the thought around the NHL was that Ottawa would be back even stronger in 2013-14.
That prediction hasn’t materialized, as the Sens (14-17-7, 35 points) find themselves in sixth place in the new Atlantic Division, trailing the Maple Leafs by five points for the East’s final wild-card playoff spot. Since starting the season at 8-7-4, Ottawa has won six of its past 19 games, including its current three-game winless streak (0-2-1).
The Senators score plenty of goals – their 2.8 per game ranks 10th – and they’re in the middle of the pack as far as possession-oriented stats go, but they’ve allowed the third-most goals against in the NHL at 3.2 per outing. Their penalty kill has been poor (25th at 78.2 percent), as has their save percentage (25th, 91.4) and shooting accuracy (20th, 7.0).
Since those last two metrics are subpar, the Senators may be due to rebound by the law of averages alone. If they do get incrementally better in those areas, they should be able to hang in the race all season.
Monday’s game is at 7:30 and will be broadcast on Root Sports Pittsburgh. 105.9 the X has the coverage on the radio side.