Game Preview: at Boston Bruins - February 24, 2016 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Game Preview: at Boston Bruins - February 24, 2016



Pittsburgh Penguins (30-20-8; 4th Metro) at Boston Bruins (32-22-6; 4th Atlantic)
February 24, 2016 @ 7:30 PM - TD Garden
TV: NBC Sports Network


It's a wildcard battle on Rivalry Night at the first wildcard Boston Bruins take on the 2nd wildcard Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Bruins just 5 points behind first place in the Atlantic and the Penguins 6 points behind second place in the Metro, the two points will loom large in this matchup as the teams try to keep pace in their divisions. It's the third and final meeting between the two teams this season with the Bruins having taken advantage of the Penguins coaching change, winning both games in a December home and home in Mike Sullivan's first week as Pens coach.


That the Bruins currently hold the first wild card this late in the season has been a pretty big surprise from a team many were anticipating would take a large step backwards after missing the playoffs on the last day of the season in 2014-15. The Bruins blew up a decent chunk of the organization in the offseason by firing GM Peter Chiarelli and trading away Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton. Expectations weren't high for the Bruins, and they certainly would have been even lower knowing before the season that Tuukka Rask would be going through his worst season as a professional. The 28-year-old Finn currently has a 0.915 SV% and 2.60 GAA through 45 appearances on the year. The save percentage would be a career worst, while if his goals against average holds up it would be the second highest he's posted. So, with their arguably their best player playing at his worst, how are the Bruins in the playoff picture?

The strength of the Bruins has been their offense, which is 3rd in the league with 3.02 goals per game. And probably their biggest surprise has been Brad Marchand, who leads the team with 30 goals, 4th most in the league this season. While Marchand has consistently been a mid-20s goal score in the NHL, he's already set a career high and is on pace for 42 goals on the year, which would shatter his previous career high of 28 goals set in 2011-12. He's done it at an age (27) at which most forwards are exiting their prime years, and most impressively he's done it with a shooting percentage (16.6%) that's in the neighborhood of his career average (15.4%). He's been incredibly strong in the possession game for Boston as well, posting a score-adjusted 54.0 CF% vs the 46.9 CF% the Bruins have managed when he's off the ice.

While it's unexpected to see Marchand have a season at this elite of a level, it's no surprise to see Patrice Bergeron leading the Bruins in scoring. The 3 time Selke Trophy winner could be one of the most underrated players in the league even with the praise he already receives. He's one of the best possession driving forwards in the league (54.5 SACF%), clearly one of the most respected players in his own zone, and with the increased burden on the Boston offense this season Bergeron is within striking distance of his personal bests of 31 goals and 73 points set in the season after the first lockout. Add in the 48 points each of both Loui Eriksson and David Krejci and the Bruins have a number of top offensive options high up on the league's list of leading scorers.

But in an unusual move for a team in the playoff picture, Loui Eriksson might very well be on the trading block heading into the deadline. The team's 2nd leading score is an impending UFA and is in line for a raise on the $4.25 million AAV he currently carries. While trading Eriksson is highly unlikely to bring the Bruins back any players that can help them in the current season, Boston GM Don Sweeney might find any return better than watching Eriksson walk in free agency. And with how unusual of a season it's been in Boston, Sweeney might decide the Bruins are in more of a rebuilding year than their current record would indicate.

Injuries

Penguins: Ben Lovejoy (upper body), Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Eric Fehr (lower body), Nick Bonino (hand), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)

Bruins: Chris Kelly (leg)

Notes

- Evgeni Malkin is nearing a return from a lower body injury that has caused him to miss the past 9 games. His return couldn't come soon enough for a Penguins power play that has gone just 1-for-23 (4.3%) in his absence, including no goals in their past 7 games.

- Mike Sullivan will be looking for his first victory tonight against the team that gave him his head coaching start. Sullivan was hired as the head coach of the Bruins in 2003 and went 41-19-15-7 in his first season, good enough for 104 points and 1st place in the Northeast Division. However, Boston went from first to worst coming out of the lockout, going 29-37-16 for 74 points and last place in the division, and Sullivan would be fired at the end of the year.

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