The Boston Bruins have been vowing to get out of this "funk" for several weeks now, but have yet to actually follow through on the ice. Matinee games never help, but maybe it's just what the Bruins need to mix things up. They are coming off of a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, but the good news is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are also coming off of a shutout loss, 1-0, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams are 0-1 in February and also have eerily similar records from January: the Penguins were 8-4-0 for 16 points in 12 games, while the Bruins were 8-4-1 for 17 points in 13 games.
Despite recent struggles, the Bruins sit atop the Northeast Division with 66 points after 49 games played (32-15-2), good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins are 5th in the Eastern Conference and 3rd in the Atlantic Division with 62 points in 51 games played (29-18-4).
The "big story" for the Penguins has been the ongoing concussion troubles for Sidney Crosby, who has played in 8 games total this season. He remains out, but that hasn't been as devastating for the Penguins as it would be for most teams. Evgeni Malkin and James Neal each have 27 goals, which puts them in a tie for 2nd place along with Jonathan Toews (Steven Stamkos leads the league with 33 goals). Malkin leads the NHL in points with 59 as well.
Despite that impressive offensive firepower, the Bruins balanced scoring - as it has been for most of the season, but not necessarily of late - holds up well against the Penguins. The Bruins may have no players with 45 or more points yet - while the Penguins have 2 in Malkin and Neal - they only have 3 players with more than 30 points and 3 with 15 or more goals. The Bruins have 7 players with 30 or more points and 5 players with 15 or more goals. The Bruins top 2 point-scorers, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin, each have 43 points. At 19 goals, Seguin is on the cusp of being the first Bruin to hit the 20-goal mark this season, although Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic aren't far behind with 18 goals apiece.
Like the Penguins, the Bruins are also missing a top scorer due to concussion as Nathan Horton will sit out for the 4th straight game. Horton is currently tied with Zdeno Chara for most power play goals on the Bruins with a measly 6 compared to Pittsburgh's 13 PP goals from Neal. Once again, the disproportionate scoring takes away from Malkin's and Neal's numbers; the Penguins have scored 157 goals this season, while the Bruins have 175. The Pens power play is also ranked behind the Bruins (19.2% for Boston and 18.2% for Pittsburgh). Boston has 1 player in the negative for +/- (David Krejci with -1), while Pittsburgh has at least 8. The highest +/- on the Penguins belongs to Matt Niskanen with +11. The Bruins have 12 players with a higher +/- rating, led by Seguin with +30, best in the league.
Tim Thomas will likely get the start in net. He was between the pipes on December 11, which was the first and only time the Bruins and Penguins have played each other so far this season. The Bruins won 3-1 in Pittsburgh. Marc-Andrew Fleury of the Penguins has played in 43 of the Penguins 51 games thus far this season (17-12-2) with 2 shutouts, 2.28 goals against average, and 9.13 save percentage. Fleury is 3rd among NHL goaltenders in wins.
Meanwhile, Thomas and Tuukka Rask have a more even balance of games played - 32 for Thomas and 19 for Rask. Rask is 11-6-2, has recorded 3 shutouts, boasts a 1.88 GAA and .936 Save %, but has lost 2 starts in a row. Thomas hasn't been perfect lately, either, but has still managed to win 3 in a row. His overall numbers are 21-9-0, with 4 shutouts, a 2.15 GAA and a .933 Save %. Although neither rank in the top of the league in wins like Fleury, the more even distribution of games played between the two goaltenders obviously accounts for that. In other goaltending categories, Rask ranks among the top 5 in two (3rd in GAA and Save %) and Thomas is also ranked 5th in Save %.
Before the so-called "funk" that began in January, the Bruins goaltenders and team as a whole had much more impressive stats. Recent struggles have yielded an uncharacteristically high number of goals against per game, although they still maintain the highest goal differential in the league with +67.
Despite these season numbers, the Bruins still face a tough test this afternoon. And despite both teams coming off shutout losses, the Penguins will prove to be an enormous threat, especially from January's 2nd Star, Malkin. Expect Shawn Thornton - who was blunt about his disappointment with the team effort after the loss to Carolina - to try to get things going by dropping the gloves or, hopefully, another goal with those soft hands. A loss today would give the Bruins 2 straight home losses for the first time since the dark times of October earlier this season.
From dafoomie's youtube, here are some highlights from the previous match-up between these teams
Game Notes (PDF) from bruins.nhl.com.
This entry was also posted at Aerys Sports.