The Eastern Conference’s strongest teams just seem to be getting stronger on Saturday.
Just moments after it was revealed that Henrik Lundqvist will return for the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins confirmed that Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist are back in the lineup against the Arizona Coyotes today.
For all the worries about the Penguins’ shaky play lately, plenty have countered that Pittsburgh has been rocked by another season full of injury challenges. Getting two key forwards back – Hornqvist has shown that he can be a huge contributor, too – should provide a little more clarity regarding the Penguins’ position among the East’s power brokers.
Of course, it might take one or both of these scorers some time to get healthy and up to speed. The good news is that the Penguins have two weeks to gear up for the postseason, so the hope is that they’ll shake off any rust by then.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe provided his guess as far as how Pittsburgh’s lines might look against the Coyotes:
Were I to guess today's lines…
The first team to clinch a playoff spot will get its franchise goalie back on Saturday as the New York Rangers officially see the return of Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers have been playing surprisingly well since Lundqvist decided to play it safe with his throat issues starting on Feb. 2. One gets the impression that Cam Talbot’s brilliant work made it that much more comfortable for Lundqvist, 33, to ease back into the lineup.
That said, this first game back should test the stellar Swede. He’s facing the Boston Bruins today, a team that is absolutely fighting for their playoff lives.
Bergy on Lundqvist: "one of the best goalies in the League, and it's definitely about making sure we bear down on any chances we have"
It’s way too early to rush to final judgments on the trade that sent Devante Smith-Pelly to Montreal and Jiri Sekac to Anaheim, yet the bottom line is that “DSP” is off to a rough start with the Canadiens.
Smith-Pelly, 22, is a healthy scratch for the Habs against the Florida Panthers tonight.
This isn’t just a momentary issue, either; the young forward has produced just an assist and 20 shots on goal in 15 games with the Canadiens. While Sekac (also 22) hasn’t set the world on fire with Anaheim, he’s been a bit more productive and has even seen a shift or two with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
The focus is on getting the most out of Smith-Pelly (not proving that he’s better than Sekac), and that’s where the concern lies.
The Canadiens can clinch a playoff berth in a variety of ways today. The question remains if Smith-Pelly will be able to make an impact in their postseason run, and that’s a pretty big question right now.
As anticipated, the St. Louis Blues are getting a significant boost on Saturday, as key defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk returns to the lineup against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As an added bonus, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out that the Blues will see the return of two blueliners with Carl Gunnarsson also slated to come back.
Shattenkirk sounds excited about shaking off the rust.
“I’m ready to go,’” Shattenkirk said. “I felt good out there. It was nice to just be back with the team and get the speed of the game back a little bit. I’m exited about it.
“I’ve done what I’ve had to do rehab-wise. It’s time to just get back into it. It may not be pretty to start, but you have to get that mindset of playing games to really get back up to speed.”
To start things off, head coach Ken Hitchcock is pairing Shattenkirk with Barret Jackman, Gunnarsson with Alex Pietrangelo and rounding things out with Jay Bouwmeester – Zbynek Michalek. There’s also a chance that St. Louis will dress seven defensemen, but if not, Robert Bortuzzo would be a healthy scratch.
Despite missing 25 games with this abdominal injury, Shattenkirk is second in scoring among Blues defensemen with 40 points (Pietrangelo just passed him with 41). This already-formidable St. Louis squad could be very scary if the 26-year-old can get up to speed by the playoffs.