NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Boston Bruins at the Consol Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET.
With just under half the season remaining, both teams are serious contenders for the first seed in the Eastern Conference, and while that might not be a shock, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion going into this season.
These teams had serious question marks when the lockout ended. For the Boston Bruins, the big concern revolved around their goaltending and whether Tuukka Rask would make a smooth transition from strong backup to starting netminder while Anton Khudobin, with little prior experience, emerge as a a viable backup. Both have long since squashed those fears.
In the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the concerns were largely injury-related. Could Sidney Crosby, plagued by concussion problems in recent years, stay healthy? So far he has.
In fact, Tuesday’s match will feature the top offensive team in the Penguins facing off against the third best defensive team in the league.
Even with Evgeni Malkin sidelined, the Penguins have four players that are averaging more than a point-per-game and two of the top-four highest goal scorers in the league.
33-year-old forward Chris Kunitz in particular has proven to be a major weapon for the Pittsburgh Penguins and one of the season’s biggest surprises. He’s already had two hat tricks in 2013 – including one on Sunday – and will enter tonight’s clash with 36 points in 26 games.
To put Kunitz’s numbers in perspective: If he maintains his current pace, he will set new career-highs in goals and points, despite the fact that this is a shortened season.
That being said, to bill this match purely as a classic contest between offensive and defensive juggernauts would be misleading. The Boston Bruins have plenty of offensive weapons of their own and a deep core of forwards that should keep the Penguins on their toes.
Given that Penguins goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun have struggled this season, the Bruins might be able to match Pittsburgh blow-for-blow even if this turns into a high-scoring affair.
One thing is for sure: This game will feature a lot of stars and two teams that can’t be taken lightly.
Probable goaltenders: PIT – Fleury (12-5-0, 2.71 GAA, .902 SV%) | BOS – Khudobin (4-1-0, 2.42 GAA, .910 SV%)
Top scorers: PIT – Crosby (12-33-45, 26 GP) | BOS – Patrice Bergeron (6-15-21, 23 GP)
Pittsburgh – Forwards: Malkin (upper body)
Boston – Forwards: Marc Savard (concussion), Chris Kelly (leg)