Through Monday night’s NHL action, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins own two of the four best point percentages in the Eastern Conference. Boston boasts a .700 success rate with seven wins in 10 tries, and the Pens have claimed two-thirds of their allotment at 8-4-0.
Not a bad way to build up interest for Wednesday night, when hockey’s two black and gold brigades will cross paths for the first time since Boston swept Pittsburgh in the 2013 conference finals.
The host Penguins will seek to stamp the notion that last year was last year and nothing more. The visiting Bruins will look to copy their competition by bouncing back from a rough loss.
Pittsburgh rapidly returned to the win column on Monday, thus redeeming their primal persona after letting two regulation decisions get away against the Islanders and Maple Leafs. Boston, meanwhile, devotes the whole first half of this week to assessing Saturday’s 4-3 loss to New Jersey and preparing for the Pens.
Here is a bystander’s guide to preparing for Wednesday’s bout.
Time: Wednesday, October 30, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports Network, RDS 2
Key Storyline: Jarome Iginla Brings a Hot Hand Back To Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh faithful will spend the entire 2013-14 season hoping that Iginla proves to be a latter-day Marian Hossa, joining the team that ended his only playoff run as a Penguin and then swinging and missing with that team.
As it happens, the carry-over saga from last spring is mere gravy on the Iginla aspect of this matchup. He returns to Pittsburgh as one of the three most reliable―in fact, the three only reliable―forwards at Boston’s disposal.
All or part of Iginla’s line, completed by David Krejci and Milan Lucic, has produced at least one scoring play in nine of their first 10 games together. The exception was when the whole team brooked a 2-0 shutout via Colorado.
Iginla, Krejci and Lucic have each been on the ice for all five of Boston’s most recent goals. Iginla has been on for seven of the last 10, Krejci and Lucic eight apiece.
Key Matchup: Zdeno Chara vs. Sidney Crosby
Ever since his captaincy counterpart fettered him for four games in the last playoffs, Sidney Crosby has supplied a nearly nonstop stream of carbonation to start this year. With a pair of primary assists in Carolina Monday night, he improved his output to 8-12-20 through 12 games.
Here is another telling stat: Pittsburgh is 8-2-0 when Crosby contributes and 0-2-0 when he goes pointless. Those two losses included a 1-0 shutout via Colorado (sound familiar?) and a foul, fall-from-ahead falter last Friday that wasted Crosby’s latest goal.
As Crosby seeks to complete the turn of the page in this rematch, Chara and presumptive partner Johnny Boychuk will seek to impose more inhibition—to cut down on the quality, if not the quantity, of the top Penguins line’s chances.
Because the Bruins went deeper into an unusually late 2013 tournament, Chara is the subject of a well-documented attempt to preserve the big blueliner’s batteries. Residual wear and tear can and likely will become a visible problem as this season drags on, particularly in marquee matchups such as this.
Wednesday might be a different story given that Boston last played on Saturday, granting Chara an unusually long stretch of three straight non-game days. Even so, a surely determined and clicking Crosby promises to pose a new challenge in the waning first month of 2013-14.
Injury Report (via tsn.ca)
Loui Eriksson: Out indefinitely with a concussion
Marc Savard: Out for the season with post-concussion syndrome
Beau Bennett: On injured reserve with a lower-body ailment
James Neal: On injured reserve with an upper-body ailment
Rob Scuderi: Out indefinitely with a lower-body ailment
Tomas Vokoun: Out indefinitely with a blood clot
Bruins’ Projected Lineup
Line 1: Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla
Line 2: Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Reilly Smith
Line 3: Carl Soderberg-Chris Kelly-Jordan Caron
Line 4: Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Unit 1: Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk
Unit 2: Dennis Seidenberg-Dougie Hamilton
Unit 3: Adam McQuaid-Torey Krug
Starter: Tuukka Rask
Backup: Chad Johnson
Penguins’ Projected Lineup
Line 1: Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis
Line 2: Jussi Jokinen-Evgeni Malkin-Matt D’Agostini
Line 3: Tanner Glass-Brandon Sutter-Chuck Kobasew
Line 4: Justin Jeffrey/Jayson Megna-Joe Vitale-Craig Adams
Unit 1: Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin
Unit 2: Matt Niskanen-Kris Letang
Unit 3: Olli Maatta-Robert Bortuzzo/Deryk Engelland
Starter: Marc-Andre Fleury
Backup: Jeff Zatkoff
Boston Will Win If…
Its entire strike force is up and at it from the warm-up onward and Rask stays rigid.
The 90-plus hours separating last Saturday’s siren and Wednesday night’s opening faceoff are doing more than just offering a gratifying period to rest and recharge. They are also giving the bulk of the Bruins a surplus of time to digest head coach Claude Julien’s remarks about the lack of depth on display against the Devils.
Last Monday, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the Avalanche offered fresh evidence that a visitor can take command at the Consol Energy Center if they stall the Pittsburgh offense long enough. But that 1-0 Colorado victory also made it apparent that at least one timely break at the other end will likely spell the difference between rewarding and wasting an otherworldly defensive outing.
The Bruins cannot keep banking solely on the Lucic-Krejci-Iginla troika to make those breaks. A night like last Thursday can only happen so often.
Pittsburgh Will Win If…
It induces enough mistakes by each layer of the Boston defense and finishes the game strong.
The Penguins know from last spring that beating Rask is a tall order when the Bruins backstop is at a maximum compete level. Virtually every adversary to have crossed paths with Boston this young season, perhaps none more so than the San Jose Sharks, know that from this month.
With that being said, Pittsburgh’s elite attackers can spread their wealth among their top lines and generate a favorable cycle by tripping the Bruins into a pothole of harmful habits.
Speaking of bad habits, the Pens want to be sure last weekend’s pattern is in the past. A multitude of missteps late in the third period both Friday and Saturday allowed the Islanders to mount a comeback and the Leafs to compile insurance.
Prediction: Penguins 3, Bruins 2 (Shootout)
Rask will face his share of shots through 65 minutes of full-fledged hockey and stand firm enough to help Boston to a hard-earned point. When the seesaw battle remains undecided and the contesting clubs resort to one-on-ones, however, his comparative fatigue versus that of Fleury will show as he blinks one or two times too many.
Whether they divulge as much to the public or not, the likes of Crosby will surely be raring to rinse out the residual vinegar from last June. They will state as much through their performances on the ice by at least producing chances in regulation and then burying biscuits in the shootout.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com