March 23, 2017, 10:31 AM ET [18 Comments]
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After finally snapping a four game losing streak (0-2-2) with a tight but pivotal win over the Bruins, the Ottawa Senators return home to face Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night.
Pittsburgh is coming in off a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, highlighted by Crosby's ridiculous one-handed backhander over the shoulder of Robin Lehner. Crosby leads the league in goals with 41, four up on Brad Marchand. Crosby trails Connor McDavid by four points for the league's scoring race.
Pittsburgh is in a three team race for first in the Metropolitan Division, sandwiched in between the Capitals and Blue Jackets. That race is pivotal for those with Stanley Cup aspirations, because the first place team will face the second wild-card team and the other two will face off in the first round and one will be bounced much earlier than they should be.
Ottawa will play their third-last home game, and have 10 games remaining with a decent hold on second place in the Atlantic, five points up on the Leafs who leapfrogged the Bruins with a big win over Columbus on Wednesday.
The Pens have won three straight despite injuries on their blue line to Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and deadline acquisition Ron Hainsey. Add to that the fact that Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust are also on the shelf, there will be a lot of unfamiliar names in the lineup. Jake Guentzel left the Buffalo game after a big hit (interference) from Rasmus Ristolainen and was diagnosed with a concussion as the Pens injury woes don't get much better. Malkin is listed as day to day but didn't travel to Buffalo with his team and I haven't been able to determine if he has joined them in Ottawa or not, so I don't know how many, if any, of the players that missed Tuesday might be able to return tonight.
Ottawa has just Mark Stone on the outside looking in, and although the week to week tag was softened and he has taken strides a return tonight is not likely. The Senators miss him more by the game, especially on the power play.
The Senators need to play a better all-around game than they have been putting forth, but the opportunity to jump on a relatively inexperienced lineup with riddled with injury replacements presents itself. Easier said than done, but if they can contain Crosby (also easier said than done) it will go a long way to help them be successful in this one.
Ottawa beat Pittsburgh 4-1 at home in their last meeting, which was one of the Senators' better outings of the season. Craig Anderson will also be looking to prove something to the Pens, as the last time he faced Pittsburgh it was his final game with the club before his departure in December, and he allowed a career high seven goals before finally being replaced by Mike Condon with less than eight minutes left in a game that ended up 8-5 for Pittsburgh.