Traditionally a visit by two of the NHL’s top players and a premiere team would be more than enough to get excited about, but tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins visit to Nashville carries even more hype than normal.
Enthusiasm envelopes Music City as Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne makes his return to the crease and his first NHL start since October 22nd. The Finnish netminder has spent the past several months recovering from an infection in his hip, and after a two-game conditioning stint in the AHL this weekend he’s back with the big club.
Rinne won’t be able to ease back into NHL action, however, as his first opponent features one of the game’s best offenses and two skilled playmakers in Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Three things to watch for in tonight’s contest:
- Sharpness of Rinne’s glove hand: The quickness and accuracy of Rinne’s glove is widely regarded to be his best attribute. How confidently and easily Rinne is stopping pucks with his glove will likely go a long way in determining how well his night goes. The Penguins will be sure to throw a large number of pucks on the Predators net early, knowing that Rinne may still have some apprehension in his return to action.
- Response to adversity: Crosby has an 11-point lead on the NHL scoring race and is enjoying one of his best (and healthiest) seasons in several years. Couple that with 60 points (18 goals and 42 assists) for Evengi Malkin, and the fact that the Penguins have scored 42 more goals this season than the Predators, it’s likely the Penguins will present one of the most dynamic and powerful attacks Nashville has seen all season. If the Penguins jump out to an early lead, Rinne’s response and the success of the Predators offense to answer back will be important.
- Penguins energy level: Currently on a rare three-game losing streak, how the Penguins matchup against the Predators in an unusual head-to-head meeting should be interesting. Pittsburgh was embarrassed by the Chicago Blackhawks in an outdoor game at Soldier field on Saturday and the team is ready to breakout and put their failures behind them. If the Penguins four lines are clicking in their attack, it will probably be a somber return for Rinne.
The puck drops on part three of the Predators five-game home stand tonight at 7:00 p.m. (CST).