Predators-Penguins Preview

It’s hard to believe any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni
Malkin could have trouble scoring goals, but that’s been the
biggest problem for the Pittsburgh Penguins lately.

With a pedestrian offense and the absence of their No. 1
goaltender, the Nashville Predators’ slump is much easier to
explain.

The Penguins look to avoid their first four-game skid in nearly
two years Friday night when they host a Predators team hoping to
end a three-game slide of its own.

After averaging 3.75 goals during a 7-1-0 start, the Penguins
appeared on their way to dominating a mediocre Metropolitan
Division. But they’ve been limited to 20 goals during a 4-6-0
stretch that includes one in each of the last three games.

Those offensive issues were apparent again Wednesday in a 2-1
loss to visiting Philadelphia. Crosby scored his first goal in
eight games, but Malkin’s drought reached 11 and Pascal Dupuis, a
20-goal scorer last season, has gone 12 straight without one.

”We’re not doing enough around the net and in those areas to
get the goals,” coach Dan Bylsma said. ”We had opportunities, but
we were not able to get in their end and finish.”

Pittsburgh (11-7-0), which hasn’t dropped four straight since a
six-game skid Dec. 29-Jan. 11, 2012, is 11-2-0 when scoring three
or more goals.

”I think the chances are there, we just have to put them in,”
Dupuis said. ”It’s definitely not a fun time, but you just have to
find ways to score.”

After struggling in the playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury’s play in
net hasn’t been a concern for the Penguins. He’s allowed two goals
or fewer in 11 of 15 starts and ranks among the league leaders with
a 2.07 goals-against average.

Nashville (8-8-2) has traditionally relied heavily on
goaltending to carry the club, but that formula hasn’t been
successful with an injury to Pekka Rinne, who hasn’t played since
Oct. 22 due to a hip infection and is out indefinitely.

In Rinne’s place, Carter Hutton, who entered this season with
one NHL appearance, has struggled in the starting role. He is 4-3-1
with a 3.53 GAA and served as Marek Mazanec’s backup Tuesday in a
3-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

Despite a strong 30-save performance from Mazanec, the Predators
lost their third in a row and dropped to 2-3-1 on a seven-game
trip. They were headed for a third straight shutout before Patric
Hornqvist scored with 5:30 remaining.

”We were slow to the puck all night and they did a better job
winning the 1-on-1 battles,” coach Barry Trotz said. ”We’re going
through a tough time. We have to tighten up and put together better
efforts.”

Trotz’s team ranks near the bottom of the league with 2.11 goals
per game and those struggles have been compounded by an .898 save
percentage.

Penguins defenseman Paul Martin could return after missing the
past two games with a lower-body injury.

“Paul Martin was back on the ice today and practiced in the
optional practice,” Bylsma told the team’s official website. “We
saw him in battle drills and skating. He looked pretty good.”

Pittsburgh has won two straight against Nashville, including 5-1
at home in the most recent meeting March 22. Malkin scored twice
and James Neal had a career-high four assists.