The Penguins unofficial "second half" of the season starts tonight. Really 58.5% of the games have been played, but even the team's email bulletin hails it as the beginning of the second half, so here we go..
- The sked starts out pretty fast and furious; the boys start a set of three games in four nights (two of them on the road)...Then they get a two day break before three more games in four more days. Six games in ten days in four different cities.
- Sidney Crosby is optimistic to play tonight. We think he will go, and will be OK. After all, he came back from the injury to play in the last two games before the break and while El Sid didn't look 100% it didn't appear he was too far off his game.
- One guy who won't be going tonight is impromptu first line winger Matt Cooke. Colin Campbell has decided to suspend Cooke two games--not for missing the All-Star game (ha!) but for an elbow to the head of Carolina's Scott Walker.
- Of this writing, the Penguins haven't decided who to call-up to replace Cooke. Our two cents would go for Chris Minard; who's started to get more shots on goal and did score against the very same Rangers that come to town again tonight
- Old friends Pascal Dupuis (out the last seven games) and Max Talbot ought to be back in the lineup too. The news is not so good for Brooks Orpik, who despite having what the coach called a relatively minor injury, hasn't been skating.
- The Rangers held off Carolina 3-2 last night. So their legs might be a little more under them at the beginning of the game. Interestingly Steve Valiquette got a rare start and made 33 saves on 35 shots, as Henrik Lundqvist did do a lot in the weekend's All-Star game and got a night off. The Pens probably won't luck out and not see King Henrik, huh?
Now bigger scheme thoughts to ponder..
- The Penguins need to go at least 20-13-1 down the stretch to pretty much assure themselves post-season play. That's not impossible but still it does look daunting when one looks at the big number. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and tonight is the chance.
- It might also take some scoreboard watching. As we mentioned, Carolina lost in regulation last night (a good thing) but Florida took out Philly (bad for the Pens...kinda) and Buffalo slaughtered Edmonton 10-2 (bad). Those three teams are the closest for Pittsburgh to catch so if you're one to root against teams, those would be the ones, as of today at least.
- Since the 6-3 loss to Washington, the Penguins have really tried to batten down the hatches defensively and it shows; they gave up just three goals in three games--including a shutout of the Rangers in the Igloo. Tonight's game is also at Mellon, hopefully the Rags can't get off the schneid.