Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins will play a tough home game against a hungry Toronto Maple Leafs wanting to try to bounce back from a tough 1-0 loss from the Winnipeg Jets. On the other side, in tomorrow night’s New Year’s Eve match up the Detroit Red Wings will come into town after suffering 4-2 road loss to those same Jets, incurring a losing record of seven lost in their last 10 games.
It’s a classic match up, when you think about the two teams who have classic fire power and explosive forwards who can change games on a dime. But for some reason neither of the teams have been playing to their potential and are under .500 with less than 20 wins on the season. Many critics have asked can the Penguins and Red Wings turn their seasons around?
If tonight, the playoffs started Pittsburgh would have to watch them on TV, as of today they are in 11th place in the East, five points behind the 8th seeded Ottawa Senators. The Pens already made some big changes to their team this year when they fired head coach and hired Mike Sullivan to take the lead.
So far Sullivan is just 2-4 and it seems to many that his teams has troubles that go deeper than just coaching. Who would have thought that a team with Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are struggling offensively as badly as they are. The offense clearly needs a reorg or infusion since they are currently ranked 28th in scoring and 28th in power play conversions. Some hockey gurus say that Crosby is a coach killer. And that Phil Kessel is ‘uncoachable’. Could trade talks be in the works? Stay tuned.
The Pens scored only 14 times in their last eight games and in their last game they were shutout by a Winnipeg team that is 25th in goals allowed. So they had opportunity. Only two players have put up double digit goals, and Crosby has just seven goals so far. Luckily even though their offense is not firing right now they are better on defense since they rank 9th in the league in goals allowed, giving up just 2.4 gpg, allowing teams to convert on just 16.7% of their chances, which is 6th in the league.
The Pens rookie goaltender Matthew Murray, will play in back to back games against Toronto and Detroits and everyone will see if he has what it takes to hold the fort until Marc-André Fleury comes back, who is on the mend from a concussion. Murray is 2-1 with a 1.68 GAA in his three starts this year.
Red Wings faced similar setbacks starting in Winnipeg. A few days ago the Winnipeg Jets shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0, and the night before, on Tuesday, they kept Detroit to just one goal in their 4-1 win. Detroit has now scored just one goal in each of their last two games. On the year they are 20th in scoring, putting up just 2.5 gpg, while converting on 18.2% of their power play chances, which is 18th in the league. The lone scorer for the Red Wings in the loss to the Jets was Pavel Datsyuk, which sadly was just 5th of the year for the superstar. The loss was a tough one since it was Detroit’s 6th in their last eight games. As of right now, they’re in 4th place in the Atlantic Division. And if they don’t start winning again, they could fall really fast.
Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings goalie took the recent loss for the Red Wings, who allowed all four goals to the Jets before being pulled for back up Petr Mrazek. He stopped all 11 shots he faced, but it was too little too late. Howard is now 7-9 with a 2.66 GAA on the year. He probably won’t get the start and Mrazek should get the net tomorrow, who is now 11-10 with a 2.23 GAA overall, including 6-6 with a 2.15 GAA at home. Versus the Penguins he has gone 1-1 with a 3.00 GAA. The Red Wings have been rather average on defense, ranking 16th in goals allowed, giving up 2.6 gpg, while ranking 12th in the penalty kill (81%). So they will have to score more goals if they want a better chance to win.
It’s going to be a tough and hard fought last game of the year, since both teams are struggling to score right now. The Wings have put up just one goal in each of their last two games, while Pittsburgh has had issues scoring all year, with only 14 goals in their last eight. They are similarly matched up too, in that the Pens have allowed just six total goals in their last four games, while Detroit’s goalie Petr Mrazek has a solid 2.23 GAA on the year. This one should be a defensive battle and with lots of hits, high slot shots and power plays galore. It will come down to the team who wants it more and needs to take a positive trend into the new year.
Our Pick: Red Wings over Pens, 3-2