After the Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at home prior to the Christmas break, they will be back in action tonight (8:00 p.m. ET, ROOT, FS-N, FS-WI) in St. Paul to square off against the Minnesota Wild.
There is good news on the Pittsburgh side of the matchup as the team learned that forward Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang will return to the lineup tonight. Crosby missed their last contest against the Blue Jackets with a lower-body injury and Letang will return after a six game absence (first game under head coach Mike Sullivan) with an upper-body injury suffered against the Colorado Avalanche on December 9.
After having a rocky stretch for the last month plus, the Penguins currently sit in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers. If the Penguins win against the Wild in any fashion, they will trade places with the boys from the City of Brotherly Love.
The backbone in the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion), is still recovering and will not play tonight. Forward Beau Bennett (upper-body) is in the same situation after suffering the injury December 14 versus Washington.
The Minnesota Wild (6-2-2 in last 10 games) defeated a reeling Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on December 22. They host the Penguins for their third game of a four game home stand, and the second and final time between these two teams. When these two teams last met in Pittsburgh on November 17, the Penguins edged a 4-3 victory.
Here are the projected lineups for both teams, according to NHL.com Correspondent Dan Myers.
Nate Prosser – Matt Dumba
Olli Maatta – Kris Letang
Tonight’s Goalie Matchup
Devan Dubnyk will guard Minnesota’s cage tonight as they look to build a win streak of their own. This will be his 26th start of the year. He is 14-9-2 thus far with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage with four shutouts. Dubnyk surrendered four goals on 29 shots versus the Penguins in Pittsburgh on November 17. This will be his sixth career regular season appearance against Pittsburgh. In his previous five appearances, the Penguins have had his number. He is 2-3 with a 3.16 goals-against average and an.897 save percentage thus far in five appearances.
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Matt Murray gets the nod for the Penguins tonight as they look for their second win in a row. In his third career appearance for the boys from Steeltown, he is 1-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage thus far. He recorded 22 saves on 24 shots in a 5-2 victory to earn his first career win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in his previous outing.
Players to watch
Sidney Crosby has had an uncharacteristic season with just six goals in 32 games, but he has faired well against the Wild, points wise, in his career. In 10 career games against Minnesota, he notched 13 points (3G, 10A) in those games. Jason Pominville has seven points (3G, 4A) in his last nine games, including a goal against Montreal. In 35 games lifetime against Pittsburgh, Pominville lit the lamp 10 times while assisting on 15 others.
Keys to the Game
It All Starts From Defense
In Pittsburgh’s last game against Columbus, they did a much better job of taking care of their own end and transitioning to their offense afterward. Currently, they are 28th in the league in shots against per game at 31.7. Even though Minnesota is 24th in shots for with 28.2, Pittsburgh must keep majority of the shots to the outside. Limit grade A scoring opportunities and the Penguins will win.
As cliche as it sounds, it really is important to focus on one shift at a time. They cannot think about what might happen a period or even 10 minutes ahead of time. They were a handful for the Blue Jackets when they gave it their all in each shift and not take any shifts off. This Penguins team cannot afford to take any shifts off as they are trying to grasp for life in the playoff hunt.
Minnesota is the third least penalized team in the NHL; therefore, the Penguins have to stay out of the box and force the game to be an even strength battle and not a special teams one. Hockey is all about establishing momentum while keeping a consistent flow to the game. The Penguins will look to keep their legs moving and force Minnesota to take penalties that put them on the man advantage.