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Surging Predators take on confident Penguins

Sportsnaut
Mar 10, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (59) talks with center Ryan Johansen (92) during the first period against the Anaheim Ducks at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams feeling pretty good about themselves meet Tuesday night when the Nashville Predators host the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Predators have won four of their past five games, including 6-2 on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild, to strengthen their hold on a playoff spot.

“We know the stakes right now and how important points are,” Predators forward Ryan Johansen said.

Forward Matt Duchene added, “The good news is, our game is in order.”

Against the Wild, defenseman Roman Josi reached a career high with his 17th goal, and winger Filip Forsberg hit the 30-goal mark for the third season.

Nashville also pointed to a category that sometimes gets overlooked — 29 blocked shots.

“That’s such a cool stat for us,” said Josi, who with Alexandre Carrier had four each. “I think it just shows the dedication of the team.”

And it leaves the Predators hungry to face the Penguins for the first time this season.

“We’re in a good spot right now … and we’ve just got to carry that over to our home game against Pittsburgh,” forward Nick Cousins said.

The Penguins are 3-1-1 five games into a stretch of seven against teams that are, like them, in line to make the playoffs.

Pittsburgh, which will kick off a three-game trip Tuesday, got a particular boost from its 4-2 win Sunday against Carolina, which sits near the top of the overall NHL standings.

“I think we can beat any team, really,” Pittsburgh forward Brian Boyle said. “I think there’s a confidence in our group that, when we’re playing the way we’re capable of, we’re a tough team to beat.”

That is enhanced when the Penguins are getting scoring from more than the big four — the top line of Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust, plus second-line center Evgeni Malkin.

Scoring depth was beginning to become a glaring issue before the past two games.

Boyle, Danton Heinen, Crosby and Zach Aston-Reese scored against the Hurricanes. Rust, Jeff Carter, Evan Rodrigues and defensemen Mike Matheson and Mark Friedman scored in Pittsburgh’s previous game, a 5-2 win Friday against Vegas.

Not that the primary scoring is suddenly lacking. Crosby has 12 points during a nine-game scoring streak.

“We have the ability to be opportunistic,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.

There also suddenly is some intrigue to the Penguins’ lineup.

After a couple of absences due to injury and illness on the team, the defensive pairings have been realigned lately.

Brian Dumoulin, a longtime fixture alongside Kris Letang on the top pairing, played on the second pair with John Marino on Sunday after missing a game, and Matheson played a second straight game with Letang. That left Marcus Pettersson as the odd man out as Pittsburgh opted to keep Friedman in the lineup.

Up front, struggling winger Kasperi Kapanen returned Sunday from being a healthy scratch for a game, although he was demoted from the second to the third line.

Veteran winger Dominik Simon has sat the past couple of games while youngsters Valtteri Puustinen and Radim Zohorna got a chance to play.

–Field Level Media