The top two teams from last year in the Eastern Conference will lock horns again tonight when the Penguins finish up their two game Florida swing with a game in Tampa. However, they're coming in on very different levels.
The Pens have hit their stride lately, winning all 4 games they've played in the month of December and also putting up some incredible goal scoring numbers (6, 5, 8 and 5 goals in the last four). In the last 4 games they have eight players with a point/per (Crosby, Schultz, Kessel, Malkin, Sheary, Cole, Rust and Hornqvist). Pittsburgh hasn't been great defensively and willing to play wide-open and often trade scoring chances, but it's paying off since the skills guys are hitting the back of the net so often recently.
Tampa, however is struggling, going 3-6-1 in their last ten games and losers in six of the past seven. Goal scoring has been a major problem, as 5 times in the last 6 games they've been held to 2 goals for or less. Their coach isn't pleased, check out this quote he gave to NHLcom
"I don’t even remember losing games by four goals, ever," Jon Cooper said. "Maybe one a year. We’re losing them once a week now."
Yikes. Part of their problem stems from a 4-6 month knee injury to captain Steven Stamkos who has been out since mid-November. However, with the lines they have there is still plenty of fire-power, let's check 'em out
Expected Tampa Bay lines
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Joel Vermin
Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestinkov - Nikita Kucherov
Jonathan Drouin - Valterri Filpulla - Brayden Point
Cedric Pacquette - Brian Boyle - JT Brown
Anton Stralman / Victor Hedman
Jason Garrison / Andrej Sustr
Luke Witkowski / Brayden Coburn
Tampa has shown willingness to mix up the lines as needed as they try to find a spark and balance production without Stamkos. Expect to see the famous triplets line (Kucherov moving up with Palat+Johnson) at least a couple times this game.
Expected Penguins lines
Pittsburgh is expected to use the exact same setup from Thursday's 5-1 win over Florida. A refresher:
Conor Sheary - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Chris Kunitz - Nick Bonino - Bryan Rust
Scott Wilson - Matt Cullen - Tom Kuhnhackl
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Trevor Daley
Ian Cole / Justin Schultz
Two of the best (if not THE two best) young goaltenders will lock horns again with Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy get the starts for their respective teams.
Should be a good one, ideally the Lightning
don't quite find their footing yet and the Pens can keep their goal-scoring ways going, but with all the talent on the ice, it won't be easy.