The Pittsburgh Penguins need a victory.
They enter their game against Ottawa tonight at 7:08 at PPG Paints Arena with a tenuous hold on the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field.
A win would boost them into a tie with the New York Islanders for the first wild card; a regulation loss, coupled with a Florida victory at Detroit, would drop the Penguins behind the Panthers in the competition for the second wild card.
The Penguins are in such a precarious position because they have lost three games in a row — one to Montreal and a pair to the New York Rangers — capped by a disheartening 6-0 beatdown at Madison Square Garden Saturday night.
And their outlook didn’t improve any when it was announced that top-pairing defenseman Marcus Pettersson, who was injured Saturday, has been placed on the Long-Term Injured list. The Penguins’ Nos. 2 and 3 right-side defensemen, Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta, were injured last week.
Given their predicament, the Penguins might not mind having the Senators on the other bench this evening.
They are, you see, 13-0-1 in their past 14 home games against the Senators, with victories in the past 11 of those.
What’s more, the Senators are in a 0-4-1 skid that has all but officially knocked them out of contention for a playoff berth. They also are a fairly modest 14-18-2 on the road, where they have lost their past three games.
Finally, Ottawa is missing its top two goaltenders, Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg, both of whom are injured.
But there are no gimmes or guarantees for the Penguins these days, and Ottawa is more of a threat than a few selected statistics like those above might suggest.
After a long and arduous rebuilding process — the Senators have not been in the playoffs since the Penguins beat them in the Eastern Conference final in 2017 — Ottawa is on a decidedly upward trajectory, with a core of outstanding young talent.
The best might be center Tim Stutzle, who has a six-game points streak, with four goals and eight assists during that stretch, but there are quite a few others with the potential to make life miserable for the Penguins.
They include forwards like Alex DeBrincat, Drake Batherson and Brady Tkachuk, as well as Jakob Chychrun, Jake Sanderson and Thomas Chabot, the nucleus of what could develop into an exceptional defense corps.
And then there is veteran forward Claude Giroux, a longtime Penguins nemesis who has accounted for 21 of the 50 goals current members of the Senators have scored against them,
The Senators are pretty good now, and figure to be a lot better in the future.
The Penguins can only hope that future doesn’t begin this evening.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Expected Ottawa Senators Lines
Penguins power play: 51 for 238, 21.4%, 15th in NHL (tie)
Penguins penalty-kill: 44 for 220, 80%, 15th in NHL
Senators power play: 62 for 261, 23.8%, 7th in NHL
Senators penalty-kill: 44 for 249, 82.3%, 7th in NHL (tie)
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Sidney Crosby has at least one point in each of his past eight home games. Evgeni Malkin has a seven-game streak at PPG Paints Arena.
Rickard Rakell, acquired from Anaheim a year ago tomorrow, has 28 goals in 88 games since joining the Penguins.
The Penguins have won just 43.8 percent of their faceoffs while playing shorthanded, placing them 21st in the league rankings.
Jake Guentzel has 10 goals and five assists in 12 career games against Ottawa.
The Penguins have not recorded a shutout since Tristan Jarry made 32 saves in a 3-0 victory at Winnipeg on Nov. 19.
The Senators are among the most-penalized teams in the NHL, averaging 11 minutes. 45 seconds per game and average six minutes, 10 seconds of shorthanded time, tied with Arizona for the most in the league.
Tkachuk has two goals and three assists in two games against the Penguins this season.
Ottawa has a better record against Metropolitan Division opponents (10-6-2) than the Penguins (8-9-5) do.
Ottawa’s all-time record in shootouts is 63-82.
Chychrun has two goals and two assists in nine games since Ottawa acquired him from Arizona.
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 105.9 the X