THE STORY: The streaky Senators have points in four straight contests and hope to add more against the big black and gold (or powder blue, depending on the day) machine. The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, still sit atop the Eastern Conference standings after falling to the St. Louis Blues in overtime on Wednesday. The Penguins are so deep, they managed to climb to those lofty heights despite missing the best player in the world.
THE SUBPLOTS: Speaking of Sidney Crosby, you may have heard (if you’re a real news junkie) that he’s back after missing almost a year with post-concussion symptoms. Crosby racked up four points in his first game back, then produced nothing in game two. Which Sid will the Sens see? Probably the one who’ll do everything in his power to prevent the Pens from dropping two straight. Could be a long night for Craig Anderson.
THE WILDCARD: Craig Anderson, Senators. If Anderson can continue the dominant play he was demonstrating last week, however, there’s no reason his team can’t win in Pittsburgh. He’ll need to be at his best to shut down not only Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal too. Oh, and let’s not forget James Neal, who currently sits second in NHL goal-scoring behind Phil Kessel.
THE OPPONENT: The Penguins are dangerous — and early favourites to represent the East in the Stanley Cup finals — because they’re great on both sides of the puck. Already near the top of the NHL in scoring before Crosby came back, they are also a respectable ninth on defence. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a hand in that, what with his .930 save percentage, 1.96 GAA and 11-3-2 record. The Senators would be lucky to draw Brent Johnson (1-3-2) instead.
THE QUOTE: “Obviously they’re one of the best teams in the league and they have the best player in the league back, so it’s a game we have to be ready for. They’re coming off a loss, so I’m sure they’re going to be hungry and we haven’t played for a few days, so we have to make sure we’re ready to go.” — Jason Spezza on the situation the Senators are facing tonihgt.
THE SICK BAY: Senators — (D) M. Carkner (knee), (C) P. Regin (shoulder), (RW) C. Neil (ankle). Penguins — (D) B. Valabik (knee), (D) B. Strait (elbow), (D) B. Lovejoy (wrist), (C) D. Jeffrey (knee).
THE PREDICTION: The Senators had a surprising week, earning points in all three games of a western Canadian swing. They could really turn some heads if they were to continue that run back in Pittsburgh against the Pens. I just don’t see it happening. They were a strong team BEFORE the best player in the world returned to the lineup. Senators 0, Penguins 6.