The Penguins welcome what will surely be a surly Flames tonight at 7 oâ€™clock at Consol Energy Center.
Following Thursdayâ€™s 4-3 loss at Buffalo, Calgary (17-11-2) has dropped its past three games, putting a damper on what could be considered one of the NHLâ€™s best turnarounds this season.
â€œI like the way theyâ€™ve played in the games that Iâ€™ve watched recently,â€ Penguins coach Mike Johnston said following an optional gameday skate. â€œCertainly against Toronto and Buffalo they didnâ€™t get the result, but they are a dangerous team with their work ethic and transition game.
â€œIn the past, theyâ€™ve relied on their defensive play or goaltending. This year, I see them being a real dynamic team.â€
Calgary wasn’t much of anything last year, honestly, and finished next-to-last in the Pacific Division with 77 points.
This year’s turnaround starts with the Flames’ defensemen, most notable Mark Giordano (8-22â€”30) and T.J. Brodie (6-16â€”22). Johnston was asked this morning about Giordano and Brodie and expanded his answer to include Calgaryâ€™s second defensive paring of Kris Russell (0-13â€”13) and Dennis Wideman (10-8â€”18).
â€œYou look at the minutes they play, how active they are on the rush and how active they are in the offensive zone,â€ Johnston said. â€œThey present anybody with a lot of problems.â€
For the sake of comparison, the Penguins have 54 points from their defensemen this season. Those four, add â€˜em up, have 83.
Which means the Penguins (18-6-3) will need to not only defend around their own net better, something they struggled with at New York on Monday, but their first passes must be crisp and accurate.
Otherwise â€¦ not good.
“You have to be aware, knowing that theyâ€™re going to jump into the play,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “Hopefully we can spend enough time in their end, not allowing them to create offensive chances that way. I think for the most part just knowing where they are because they can jump into the play pretty quickly, and theyâ€™ve shown that all year.â€
The Flamesâ€™ power play also poses a formidable challenge. Calgary scored with the man-advantage last night at Buffalo, giving it an NHL-best 20 games with a power-play goal. The Flames are also tied for the league lead in road power-play goals with 12.
Over the past seven games, the Flames are 6 for 21 (28.6%) on the power play.
â€œWe need to keep doing what weâ€™ve been doing on our (penalty kill),â€ center Brandon Sutter said. â€œWeâ€™ve been pretty strong. We havenâ€™t given up much.â€
The Penguins are 14 of 15 on the PK since allow two goals each â€“ four total â€“ in back-to-back games against Carolina.
As I wrote for todayâ€™s print edition, expect defenseman Kris Letang and forward Patric Hornqvist to play tonight. Both were full participants this morning, and thereâ€™s no logical reason they should be out. Same for Crosby, who was sick and missed practice yesterday.
One would have to think that Letang and Hornqvist would help a power play that has struggled of late, going just 1 for 14 over its past six games.
â€œIâ€™m just going to try to do what I do on the power play â€“ bring some shots, maybe calm things down when itâ€™s kind of out of control,â€ said Letang, who had points in three straight games (1-4â€“5) before a groin injury kept him out of the past five. â€œJust bring whatever I bring usually, and hopefully itâ€™s going to get our power play going again.â€
Be GRATEFUL to each other,