Pittsburgh Penguins Look to Capture First Place Tonight at Ottawa Senators

By Troy Pfaff

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (46-21-6, 98) at Ottawa Senators (37-28-10, 84)

Where: Scotiabank Place

When: 7:08 PM on Root Sports

Who To Watch

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Evgeni Malkin/James Neal Line. These guys are on fire. Neal recorded a career-high four assists Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, one game after scoring a career-high three goals against the Winnipeg Jets. He has eight points in his last two games.

Malkin has continued to show why he is the most valuable player in the league despite the return of Sidney Crosby. He has 14 points on a 6-game point streak, including a five-point night against the Jets. He also has a five-game goal streak over which he’s scored seven times.

Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson. The 21-year-old defenseman has an astounding 72 points in 74 games this season. Right now, he may be the only defenseman in the NHL better offensively than Kris Letang. Karlsson could be a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season, though his defensive deficiencies are fairly obvious and have many experts ranking him outside the top three for the award.

Game Notes

Here are Pittsburgh’s lines from the morning skate:

Chris Kunitz – Malkin – Neal

Matt Cooke – Crosby – Tyler Kennedy

Steve Sullivan – Jordan Staal – Pascal Dupuis

Eric Tangradi – Craig Adams – Arron Asham

Matt Niskanen won’t play tonight. Ben Lovejoy will skate on the team’s third pairing with Deryk Engelland.

Rookie Brad Thiessen will start in net. Thiessen allowed four goals on Tuesday against the Jets, but the Penguins take on division rival New Jersey Devils tomorrow, so Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for that one.

The New York Rangers continue their late season slide after looking like the best team in the game just a month ago. Their loss last night to the Buffalo Sabres leaves them with 99 points on the season after 74 games played.

Currently at 98 points after 73 games, the Pittsburgh Penguins can take over the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a win tonight against the Senators.

The Penguins are four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, who meet the Montreal Canadiens tonight. The Penguins have played one less game on the season.

The Senators are coming off a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens last night despite getting 38 shots on goal. Ottawa is seventh in the conference right now, two points ahead of the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres.

Senators points leader Jason Spezza returned last night after missing a game with an illness. Spezza’s 76 points tie him with James Neal for fourth in the NHL in scoring, though Neal has played two less games.

Evgeni Malkin maintains a 10-point lead in the NHL scoring race. His 1.44 points per game are astounding. The only player with more points per game this season? Sidney Crosby at 1.62. Crosby actually has more assists per game (1.46) than any NHLer has points per game.

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff

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