Pittsburgh comes to town with a Senators-like list of injured players, some of the top names in the game. The Senators have the opportunity to punch their ticket to the playoffs with a little help from a rival.
HEAD TO HEAD
The Penguins have gotten the better of the Senators on both previous occasions that the two teams have crossed paths. Evgeni Malkin had the shootout winner the first time they met to secure a 2-1 win while James Neal scored twice and Sidney Crosby added one in Pittsburgh’s 4-2 win on Feb 13th. That was also the game where Erik Karlsson‘s run-in with Matt Cooke resulted in a long term injury to the Norris Trophy winner.
Pittsburgh last played Saturday afternoon in the game that was rescheduled from Friday night in Boston. Jarome Iginla had a goal and a fight in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win, that clinched first place in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa’s last game was Saturday night where they watched as archrival Toronto clinched a playoff spot with a 4-1 win over the Senators.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matt Cooke, PIT – Expect a chorus of jeers every time Cooke is on the ice, touches the puck, or breathes in Scotiabank Place air. A lot of Senators’ fans hold Cooke responsible for the Karlsson injury, and this is their first opportunity to show him how they feel. Cooke didn’t help his case much on Saturday, delivering what Boston coach Claude Julien and some Boston players felt was a low-bridge hit on Adam McQuaid.
Craig Anderson, OTT – After allowing a back-breaking goal to Nazem Kadri in the third period with the score 2-1 Toronto, the pressure will be on Anderson to find a way to help the Senators win a game that could put them into the playoffs. Anderson still leads the NHL in GAA and SP. Ottawa has relied on its goaltending all season and it needs it now more than ever.
TOP 3 STORYLINES FOR THE GAME
1. Cooke – Deserved or not, Matt Cooke will be a target without a doubt because of the Karlsson injury. What Ottawa cannot do, however, is lose focus on the task at hand in an effort to get some semblance of revenge on the Penguins pest. Two points in the standings is much more important than vengeance at this point of the season.
2. Injured Pens Ready for a Letdown? – The Penguins injury list is long and distinguished – Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Paul Martin and possibly Kris Letang will miss the game against Ottawa. While that is a lot of talent on the shelf, Pittsburgh still cannot be taken lightly as they have won 6 in a row without most of those stars and 21 of their last 23 games overall. The Penguins, having clinched first place, have much less to play for than the Senators. Will the Penguins take a game to exhale and relax after clinching before ramping it up for the playoffs that begin in just over a week?
3. The Karlsson Watch Continues – Will this be the game that sees Erik Karlsson make his return to the Senators’ lineup? It will be a top story every day until it happens, and it would be poetic justice that he return against the team that put him out. Having EK65 back in uniform would be a great emotional lift for the entire roster.
Ottawa can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Penguins and a Buffalo win in regulation over the Jets. An Ottawa loss in regulation and a Winnipeg win would drop Ottawa to 8th, with just a one point cushion over the Jets. Then panic would set in, guaranteed. Best to win this game against Pittsburgh and put the pressure on the Jets.