They are a team that the Penguins rarely get to play, but tonight’s matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks should be an entertaining and spirited game between two of the league’s top-5 teams. The Penguins have not played the Blackhawks since Pittsburgh beat them 5-4 in overtime on February 27th of this year. While Jonathan Toews scored his first career hat trick in that game, the Penguins got an overtime powerplay goal from Evgeni Malkin to ice the win. Similar to last season’s matchup, the Penguins will play tonight’s game without the services of Sidney Crosby who will be out of the lineup with a sore groin. Mark Letestu has been called up from Wilkes-Barre to backfill the roster. Tonight’s game is the only regular season pairing against the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks come into Mellon Arena having won just once in their last 4 outings, but prior to that had managed an 8-game winning streak. They currently hold 2nd place in the Western Conference, and 5th in the league. Their defense has given up the fewest shots per game of any team in the league, and they have allowed the 2nd fewest goals against. Their special teams are balanced and in the top-10 of the league, and their offense puts up 32 shots per game on average. Their offensive lines are graced by the likes of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp, as well as the offensively gifted defenseman Duncan Keith. Since picking Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in 2006 and 2007, the Blackhawks have been on a meteoric rise culminating in last season’s loss in the Western Conference finals. They picked up Marian Hossa during the off-season after he missed out on his chance at winning the Stanley Cup in Detroit at the hands of his former teammates.
The Penguins should have their hands full with a talented and motivated Blackhawks team looking to reverse their fortunes of late. Marc-Andre Fleury will need to be on his game tonight, as will Evgeni Malkin and the Staal line. The defense cannot afford to give the Blackhawks any room, as they have the talent necessary to capitalize on those mistakes.