The Pittsburgh Penguins (38-21-5) meet the Phoenix Coyotes (33-23-9) tonight at the CONSOL Energy Center.
The Penguins have won their last five games and are 7-2 in their last nine while the Coyotes have dropped their previous two, though Phoenix went on an 11-0-1 run in their 12 prior games.
MORNING SKATE NOTES:
Missing from Pittsburgh’s morning skate are Sidney Crosby, Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang, Deryk Engelland and goaltender Brent Johnson, according to the team website. Both Crosby and Johnson skated prior to the rest of the team taking the ice. Letang remains out with a concussion and is being re-evaluated by doctors today while there is no word yet on why Deryk Engelland missed the skate.
UPDATE 11:55AM: Engelland will miss tonight’s game with a lower body injury while Jeffrey was sent home from the skate with a 101 degree fever.
Winger Tyler Kennedy is expected to return to the lineup tonight and skated on the team’s third line with Matt Cooke and Joe Vitale during line rushes. Here are the rest of the team’s lines:
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin- James Neal
Steve Sullivan – Jordan Staal – Pascal Dupuis
Arron Asham – Craig Adams – Richard Park
Eric Tangradi was the odd man out and looks to be the team’s healthy scratch tonight with Kennedy’s likely return.
The Penguins have recalled defenseman Brian Strait from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for tonight hinting at Engelland missing the game. Strait didn’t arrive in Pittsburgh until after the skate, so the team’s five defensemen rotated pairings.
WHO TO WATCH:
Penguins: Steve Sullivan. Sullivan is on a seven-game point streak during which he’s recorded three goals and 11 points while playing on the team’s second line alongside Jordan Staal. His eight points last week ranked him second among NHL forwards. His 37 points rank him fourth on the team and he’ll look to keep this nice hot streak going tonight.
Coyotes: Radim Vrbata: Vrbata has quietly scored 30 goals this season on a relatively offensively-challenged Coyotes squad. He ranks second on the team with 54 points in 65 games and leads Phoenix with 10 game-winning goals and 188 shots. He’s having a sneaky good season and is a player to keep an eye on tonight.
The Penguins hold the fourth seed in the Eastern conference with 81 points, 10 points behind the New York Rangers for the division lead. With 18 games remaining in the regular season, the Penguins have their sights set on the Rangers but a more realistic goal would be to hold off the Philadelphia Flyers (79 points) and New Jersey Devils (77 points) to hold onto the fourth seed and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Penguins own the NHL’s third ranked offense with 3.11 goals per game and also the 10th ranked defense at 2.56 goals against per game.
Pittsburgh also ranks fifth on the power play at 20.2% and second on the penalty kill at 88.9%.
Leading the Pacific Division, The Coyotes don’t score nearly as much as the Penguins (2.54 g/g, 19th) but have a formidable defense/goalie combination, allowing just 2.45 goals per game, good for seventh in the league.
The Coyotes rank dead last on the power play (13.5%) but eighth on the penalty kill (83.8%).
Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start for the Penguins while Mike Smith should get the nod for Phoenix.
Game time is 7:08 PM and will be televised on Root Sports.
Let’s Go Pens.
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