The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the NHL’s best teams in December.
The part of the month that came before the league’s holiday break, anyway.
But about the only positive to come out of their 5-1 loss on Long Island Tuesday night is that they won’t have to dwell on it for long, since they’re scheduled to play Detroit tonight at 7:38 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins offered up their most cringe-worthy performance of the season and were outplayed in virtually every facet of the game by the New York Islanders.
Of course, a few flat performances are inevitable over the course of an 82-game season; the key is to not let them develop into a slump.
The Penguins, who have slipped into a tie with the New York Rangers for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, certainly can’t afford to have that happen, since only the top three teams in each division are guaranteed a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Because the Penguins played (sort of) last night, they will not conduct a game-day skate. Coach Mike Sullivan is scheduled to meet with reporters about two hours before the game to identify his starting goalie and provide any pertinent injury updates, such as the status of defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.
Detroit, which will be playing for the first time since a 7-4 win against Tampa Bay last Wednesday, is 6-5-4 on the road this season. The Red Wings had been scheduled to visit Ottawa last Friday, but that game was postponed until Feb. 27 because of inclement weather.
The victory over the Lightning pulled the Red Wings out of a 0-4-2 skid that put them in fourth place in the Atlantic Division during the NHL’s holiday break.
Detroit’s offense sits in the bottom third of the league rankings, generating an average of 3.03 goals per game, and will be without three of its top producers tonight.
Winger Jakub Vrana is on a three-game conditioning stint with Detroit’s farm team in Grand Rapids, Tyler Bertuzzi is recovering from hand surgery Dec. 2 and Robby Fabbri has not played this season because of knee surgery.
Vrana and Fabbri are expected to return to active duty next week, while Bertuzzi is projected to return in mid-January.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Expected Detroit Red Wings Lines, per PuckPedia.com
Penguins power play: 26 for 113, 23%, 13th
Penguins penalty-kill: 16 for 108, 85.2%, 1st
Red Wings power play: 23 for 116, 19.8%, 22nd
Red Wings penalty-kill: 21 for 96, 78.1%, 16th
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
The Pittsburgh Penguins have gone two games in a row without a victory for the first time since Nov. 26-29 and are 2-4-1 in the second game when playing on consecutive days this season.
Jeff Carter needs one assist to have 400 in his career and become the 100th player in NHL history to record both 400 goals and 400 assists.
Kris Letang is one even-strength point shy of becoming the seventh player (and first defenseman) in franchise history to get 400. He would join Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Evgeni Malkin, Jean Pronovost and Rick Kehoe.
The Penguins have not allowed a power-play goal in the past seven games.
Danton Heinen, whose next assist will be his 100th in the NHL, has failed to record one in his past five games and does not have a goal in his past 24.
Detroit captain Dylan Larkin has six goals and seven assists in 17 career games against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Former Penguins winger David Perron, signed as a free agent from St. Louis during the offseason, is Detroit’s No. 2 scorer, with 11 goals and 15 assists in 32 games.
Red Wings defenseman Olli Maatta, another Penguins alum, has three goals and nine assists in 28 games, while ex-Penguins forward Oskar Sundqvist has five goals and eight assists in 25 games.
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: WXDX 105.9 the X