Gameday 32: Merry Crosby-mas

Yer gonna put sumbuddy’s eye out with that shot.

Relatively quick one today since it’s the Saturday before Christmas and I don’t suppose many people will be paying much attention anyway.

On Thursday the Pittsburgh Penguins tidily dispatched of their Metropolitan Division foe the Carolina Hurricanes in a 2-1 shootout victory. Sidney Crosby, continuing his campaign to seemingly and personally carry the Penguins through this season, notched the only two goals for Pittsburgh: a snazzy deflection of a behind-the-back prayer-of-a-pass from Rickard Rakell to open the scoring in the first period, and then the only goal scored in the shootout to give the Penguins an increasingly important second point in the standings. With all their rivals in the division playing one another in the past week and lots of overtimes and shootouts in those games, Pittsburgh needs all the points it can get to stay in the fray of a Metro Division which is still very tight (six points separating second and seventh).

The Penguins are playing as well of late as they have at almost any point of the season, winning four of their last five games (that 7-0 blowout in Toronto being the outlier) and putting themselves as far ahead of .500 as they were at the end of their season-long five-game winning streak back in mid-November. After losing a bunch of guys to injuries over the past couple of weeks, they’re down to only two now: Bryan Rust, who will likely be available when he is eligible to return on January 2, and Matt Nieto, who hasn’t been bad in his fourth-line role. Rust’s return will obviously be very important, not just for his own productivity but also in terms of how that will affect that rest of the lineup. If Valtteri Puustinen can continue to produce on the second line, does Rust move down to the third line? (Knowing Mike Sullivan, probably not. He’ll more likely send Puustinen down to the third line and…that might not help as much as we would want it to.)

Tonight Pittsburgh visits the Ottawa Senators, losers of six in a row. Not only are the Senators well out of the playoff race as they sit nine points behind the Buffalo Sabres in last place in the Atlantic Division, but they also have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the second-worst in the NHL. Of the three Atlantic Division teams which had been rebuilding over the past several years (the other two are Buffalo and Detroit), Ottawa’s rebuild was seemingly most matured and ready to make noise in the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately for them, their goaltending has not been nearly good enough, and the Senators fired head coach D.J. Smith the other day and replaced him with familiar face Jacques Martin. So far the move hasn’t worked like it has for some of their peers which have also made head coaching changes this season, and it seems increasingly likely that this season will be another lost cause for the Senators.

Enjoy the game, and then enjoy your holidays!