The Pittsburgh Penguins experienced a first Monday morning, as every single player on the roster participated in the morning skate.
Carolina Hurricanes (6-17-5, 17 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (20-9-1, 41 points)
Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Alex Goligoski all recently missed games to injury, but joined the rest of the team on Mellon Arena ice this morning. For a team that has suffered through a slew of injuries to key players at seemingly every position, it’s a big and positive step forward.
Crosby announced after the skate that he will play. He said the pain in his groin is gone and he’s fine to return to the lineup.
“I’m in,” Crosby said. “I’ve had a good couple days of rest and got it worked on. There’s no more pain. That’s all I really wanted to get rid of. I can deal with it right now.”
Kunitz and Goligoski are a longshot to play tonight. Today was their first time back skating and players rarely appear back in game situations that quickly.
“I’m feeling better and better,” Kunitz said when asked about his timetable for returning to the lineup. “There’s a chance they’ll let me go out and do different things, start practicing with the team. And then we’ll know from there. But until I hit that point I don’t really have an idea.”
From coach Dan Bylsma’s comments after the morning skate, is appears Goligoski is much closer to returning to the ice than Kunitz.
“They’re both progressing,” Bylsma said. “Chris and Alex have been skating for a handful of days on their own. (Today) was back with the team for the first day, both positive signs and both progressing with the help of (head athletic trainer) Chris Stewart and (team physical therapist) Mark Mortland. They’re on different timelines, but hopefully we’ll see Alex soon.”
As for his opponent tonight, Bylsma said he expects a team that plays better than its record indicates. Both teams played earlier in the season and it took a lengthy shootout for the Penguins to earn a 3-2 victory.
The Penguins built a 2-0 third period lead, but saw it quickly vanish on two goals by Ray Whitney. Overtime went scoreless and the Penguins eventually pulled out the win in a six-round shootout, ending with a Chris Kunitz score.
“We’re preparing for a team that we respect and think is fast and quick and will come at us,” Bylsma said. “Not a team that has the record that they do.”
Carolina’s problems are clearly because of ineptitude defensively. And that’s a combination of sluggish defense and poor goaltending.
Three usual stalwarts on the Hurricanes blue line — Joe Corvo, Aaron Ward and Joni Pitkanen — are a combined minus-34 this season.
The goaltending situation has been poor as well. Cam Ward isn’t even the winningest goalie on the roster. His two wins trail that of Manny Legacy, who has won three games.
The goals against averages of all three Carolina goalies tells the story pretty well. Ward owns a 2.97 GAA, Legacy a 3.20 and Michael Leighton a 4.29. All three have save percentages below 90 as well.
The offense hasn’t helped the Canes cause either. Their power play ranks dead last in the Eastern Conference (13.5 percent) and is just ahead of St. Louis for last in the league.
As a team, Carolina has scored 67 goals. That is last in the NHL.
It sets up a situation for the Penguins that seems, on paper, to be a good chance to rebound from an emotional overtime loss to Chicago Saturday, 2-1.
More information to follow throughout the day, including player quotes and pictures.
Chris | PPT