How important is this one? Well, pretty important. Pretty tough, too.
The Chicago Blackhawks, as you’ve probably realized, are good at hockey. Check out these rankings:
Goals per game: 3.05 (5th)
Goals-against per game: 2.28 (2nd)
Shots per game: 35.6 (1st)
Shots-against per game: 29.7 (18th)
PP: 18.6 (15th)
PK: 88.2 (2nd)
So, the Penguins can barrel into the all-star break with a win over one of the NHL’s premier teams.
Or they can limp there with a four-game losing streak.
Yeah, pretty big one.
“They’ve been generating a lot of shots,” coach Mike Johnston said of Chicago this morning following an optional morning skate. “They’re a dangerous team in transition. Their defense are very active. They have four of the better defensemen in the league. We’ve got to work our matchups to try and really work their group. But it’s transition opportunities. It’s offensive zone. It’s controlling their defense. Those are the real keys to the game tonight.”
Ton of talk this morning about last night. About the Flyers and their Flyerdom. About Zac Rinaldo, his hit, his Flyerdom and what he said after. About a response.
They Penguins showed more fight than in back-to-back losses to the Islanders and Rangers, that’s for sure, but they failed to score on six power-play chances and tempted fate one too many times with penalties of their own.
Won’t be smart tonight.
Chicago is 8 for 37 over its past 11 games on the power play, a conversion rate of 21.6 percent. Their PK, however, has been uncharacteristically leaky, with power-play goals allowed in four of six; the Blackhawks have killed just 12 of 16 (75 percent) during that stretch.
“We want some momentum heading into the all-star break,” Johnston said. “We’ve got to regroup, recover and get ready for a tough team in Chicago.”
News out of the skate: Defenseman Kris Letang skated but wasn’t available to reporters afterward. His status for tonight will be a game-time decision, Johnston said. … Defenseman Simon Despres is out with an illness, his second consecutive missed games. … Eight skated this morning for the Penguins: forwards Mark Arcobello, Zach Sill, Andrew Ebbett and Marcel Goc, defensemen Letang and Scott Harrington and goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Thomas Greiss. … Blackhawks did not skate here, but coach Joel Quenneville will be available to reporters at 6 p.m.
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM
About the Blackhawks: Blackhawks are coming off a 6-1 win over the Coyotes on Tuesday, which snapped a two-game losing streak. Andrew Shaw, after being benched for part of Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Stars, scored two goals. Goaltender Antti Raanta made 35 of 36 saves to improve to 7-0 this season and 14-0-2 over the past two seasons at United Center. … Gibsonia native Brandon Saad has five goals over his past five games, eight in his past 11 and 15 on the season, ranking second on the Blackhawks. … Patrick Kane scored his 200th goal Tuesday. … Chicago has the best goal differential (+39) in the NHL, and its 51 first-period goals are second only to the Penguins’ 53.
The series: The teams split 1-1 in 2013-14. … Penguins went 0 for 8 on the power play and were outshot, 66-59. … Pittsburgh is 4-1-2 over its past seven against Chicago. … Goaltender Corey Crawford is 2-1 all-time against the Penguins, with a 1.96 goals-against average. … Penguins are unbeaten in their last 10 games at home against the Blackhawks, a streak that dates back to 1997.
Next up: Tuesday, Jan. 27 vs. Jets, 7 p.m.