JP says Malkin hasn’t established himself as a center, citing mainly his very low faceoff percentage this year. Not that big of a deal to us; the biggest factors in improvement are experience and strength, two things that will come with time. We think Malkin’s improvement will continue. The style he likes to play; that of carrying the puck through the zone, dishing it to teammates and wheeling around a lot makes him a natural center. That he is defensively responsible and backchecks well as the deep forward in his own zone continues that.
Also JP takes a swipe at Malkin’s post-season performance. His pure stats weren’t bad (0g, 4a in 5 games) and the most games he had ever played in a season was 57 in the RSL; which doesn’t much compare to 83 in the NHL that he did last season. It will be interesting to see how JP’s boy Nicklas Backstrom handles the rest of the season, as he’s basically in the same uncharted waters and now is the #1 center due to Michael Nylander’s injury.
The Penguins calling up 3 players is significant. Our guess is the majority of the 3 banged up forwards (if not all of them) will miss this game. Losing Colby Armstrong, Adam Hall and Tyler Kennedy hurts, all play important roles. Hall is one of the top penalty killers.
But we are excited to see Chris Minard. At 26 he’s no spring chicken and hasn’t appeared in a NHL game yet. But he’s been productive this season in Wilkes-Barre and after a little slump after an opening night hat trick has become one of the team’s best offensive weapons. Minard’s a goal scorer and said to be willing to go into high traffic areas. We wouldn’t mind giving him a brief audition in a situation setup to give him success with other skilled players.
Also Tim Brent and especially Jonathan Filewich are prospects that have impressed before and diehard fans have long been awaiting seeing them in Pittsburgh. Tonight could be the chance.
Speaking of chances, huge game for Dany Sabourin. After the impressive shutout of Montreal the other night the pressure is back on him to stick in the starting lineup. A poor performance could end him back on the bench in favor of the Conkmania. And with Marc-Andre Fleury a couple of weeks from returning, who knows how many chances Sabs will have to prove that he shouldn’t be waived when there are 3 healthy goalies around (more on this later).
As always when you play the Caps you have to account for Alex Ovechkin. Sergei Gonchar has done pretty well so far shadowing AO, expect that to continue tonight. The real matchup could be trying to limit the Caps 2nd line, Alex Semin is finally over his high ankle sprain and producing points again and Tomas Fleischmann is playing the best hockey of his NHL career so far.
It will be interesting to see how this shorthanded and mish-mashed lineup the Pens throw out there responds. We fully expect the best out of Malkin, and hopefully Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora can carry their end of the bargain tonight. That, plus limiting Ovechkin, stopping Semin and staying out of the box as much as possible are the keys to the game. If the Pens do that, they’ll probably win. If not, the streak of games over the Caps will end at 6.