The Pittsburgh Penguins’ next challenge is a big one. It comes Thursday on the road when they face the top team in the NHL, the Boston Bruins on national TV.
The Penguins (18-14-4) had their three-game winning streak snapped Tuesday in a 4-3 loss at home against the Washington Capitals.
Boston (23-7-6), already leading the East, won its fourth straight, 4-1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday to take over the league’s top spot.
The game starts a little after 7 p.m.
This is the first meeting between the teams.
The Penguins need a better start than they had Tuesday, when they fell behind 4-0 against the Capitals before their rally came up a goal short.
That loss left the Penguins sitting in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, although they are just two points behind the New Jersey Devils for the second wildcard spot in the East – which makes Tuesday’s loss all the more painful and Thursday’s game all the more important.
All indications are that the Penguins will go with a new look on defense, one they switched to later in the Washington game. Ryan Graves, previously a fixture in the top four, slid down to the third pairing, while P.O Joseph moved up to skate alongside Erik Karlsson.
Joseph came off the healthy scratch train Tuesday because John Ludvig was hurt. Ludvig went on LTIR on Wednesday. His physical play stands to be missed against Boston.
The Penguins will start Alex Nedeljkovic in net.
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The Bruins had a blazing start, winning their first six games and going 14-1-2 in their first 17. Perhaps that had something to do with the team needing to prove to itself and the hockey community that it could get past the loss to retirement of its top two centers, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
Since then, they have been more up and down, but their recent streak could indicate they are heating up again.
Not too surprisingly, wingers David Pastrnak (22 goals, 50 points) and new captain Brad Marchand (13 goals, 33 points) lead the way.
Boston has been stellar at home, 11-2-3.
Expected Penguins Lines
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust
Drew O’Connor-Lars Eller-Valtteri Puustinen
Jansen Harkins-Noel Acciari-Jeff Carter
Marcus Petterson-Kris Letang
P.O Joseph-Erik Karlsson
Ryan Graves-Chad Ruhwedel
Expected Bruins Lines
Pavel Zacha-Morgan Geekie-David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand-Charlie Coyle-Jake DeBrusk
James van Riemsdyk-Trent Frederic-Danton Heinen
Jakub Lauko-Georgii Merkulov-Oskar Steen
Mason Lohrei-Charlie McAvoy
Hampus Lindholm-Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk-Kevin Shattenkirk
Penguins Special Teams
Penguins power play: 13.9%, 26th
Penguins penalty kill: 82.3%, 10th
Bruins power play: 27.5%, 4th
Bruins penalty kill: 85.9%, 2nd
Penguins Game Notes
Evgeni Malkin is scheduled to play in his 1,100th game.
The Penguins were 7-1-1 in the nine games before Tuesday’s loss.
The Penguins are 0-2-1 in their past three games against the Bruins, and they have not dropped four straight against Boston since 2015-16.
Sidney Crosby has 68 points (18 goals, 50 assists) in 56 career games against Boston, including 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists) in his past 25 games in the series.
Rickard Rakell has four career multiple-point games against Boston, 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) overall in 16 games.
Jake Guentzel leads the Penguins with 10 multiple-point games.
Marcus Pettersson tops the Penguins and ranks seventh in the NHL with a plus-minus of plus-19.
How to Watch
Radio: 105.9 FM The X
Also visit sister site Boston Hockey Now