The Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4-1) travel to Minnesota on Tuesday night to face off against the Minnesota Wild (7-2-2) in a rare matchup between the 2 teams. The Penguins will be looking to avoid a 3-game losing streak, while the Wild will be looking to snap its own 3-game winless streak after starting off their season on fire. The last meeting between these 2 teams was in Dec 2005, in which the Wild beat the Penguins 5-0 at Mellon Arena. Minnesota has owned the Penguins going 5-1-0 with 1 tie against Pittsburgh. The Penguins have never won a game in Minnesota, going 0-2-0 with a tie.
The Wild, who lead the Northwest Division with 16 points, lept out of the starting gates by going 7-0-1 fueled by forwards Marian Gaborik and Pavel Demitra. However, on October 21st, Demitra left the lineup with a groin injury and Minnesota hasn’t won a game since. Gaborik also hurt his groin in practice Saturday and was out of the lineup for Sunday’s loss to the Avalanche. Demitra and Gaborik, who normally play on Minnesota’s top line, are both uncertain for Tuesday’s game. Their absence could make easier sledding for the Penguins.
The injury-riddled Wild will have to contend with a Penguins team anxious to find their mojo in their 1st of a 4-game road trip. This marks Sidney Crosby’s second career game against the Wild, and his first NHL career game in Minnesota. “I think we need to play with more emotion,” said Crosby, who has scored at least a point in each of the last 9 games. Evgeni Malkin, who has been playing with unbridled confidence, netted 3 assists Saturday night and has accumulated 6 points (1G, 5A) in his last 3 games. Rookie forward Tyler Kennedy was called up on Saturday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and had an impressive (albeit no points) NHL debut against the Canadiens. It is rumored that he will be in the lineup against Minnesota on Tuesday. It is unclear whether Gary Roberts, who sat out Saturday night with “a cold”, will be back in the lineup on Tuesday.
The Penguins’ goaltending situation continues to be the topic of discussion, if for no other reason than the early inconsistency of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, who had appeared to break out of his early slump by allowing 1 goal on 67 shots against the Canes and Rangers, allowed 3 goals on 15 shots against Montreal. Fleury has let in 8 goals in his last 80 minutes of play and has a 3.50 GAA on the season. Fleury is 0-2-0 with a 5.36 GAA in two career games against the Wild. The Penguins may well start backup netminder Dany Sabourin, who is 2.08 GAA in 4 games, but who has not yet squared off against the Wild.
Going head-to-head, the Penguins have the edge in goals per game (2.9 versus 2.5), but the Wild’s stingey defensive play has only allowed 2.0 goals against average this season. The Penguins have given up too many goals, averaging 3.2 per game. The Penguins have been very effective on the power play scoring 23.2% of the time, but the Wild have managed to maintain an 87.3% effectiveness on the kill. Minnesota is not much of a threat on the power play, especially with Gaborek and Demitra gone, netting just 14% of their man advantage opportunities. The Pen’s have been 83.3% effective on the penalty kill.
NHLPens.com Prediction: If Gaborik and Demitra are still out, I give the Penguins the win by a score of 2-1. If they are in, I still give the Pens the edge, but by a score of 3-2 in overtime. Likely goal scorers are Malkin, Recchi, and Talbot. Despite their effectiveness on the PK, I predict at least one Pens’ goal will be made on the power play to keep their streak alive for scoring at least 1 power play goal per game.