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.