The Vancouver Canucks play their first afternoon game of the season Saturday opposite Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the best player in the world at their disposal the Penguins are expected to pose a greater challenge for the Canucks relative to Thursday’s beat down in Buffalo.
The Penguins have been without top defenceman Kris Letang all season but haven’t barely missed a stride, winning six of their first seven games this year. With Letang practicing and Kid Crosby waiting at home there’s a lot to prepare for in anticipation of Saturday’s afternoon affair in Pittsburgh.
At 26 years old Sidney Crosby is hardly a kid anymore, but the moniker may stick as Crosby continues to lead the NHL in scoring as if it were child’s play.
Crosby is average two points per game so far this season and has shown no signs of slowing down after putting up nine points over his last three contests.
Shutting down Crosby will be the key to Saturday’s game for the Canucks, and that’s to say nothing of Pittsburgh’s other tremendously talented point-per-game center.
Stuck behind Crosby at second line center Evgeni Malkin is a force to be reckoned with at all times. Malkin is currently playing alongside Jussi Jokinen (career best 65 points) and Chuck Kobasew (career best 42 points) but you wouldn’t know it based on his own stat line through seven games.
Malkin has three goals and five assists so far this season, providing the latter half of a one-two punch that keeps the Penguins so dangerous year after year.
While Roberto Luongo will be carrying a shutout into Saturday’s game against the Penguins he and the Canucks are well aware that Thursday’s victory over the Sabres will be nothing compared to their weekend test against the best the Eastern Conference has to offer.
The Penguins’ power play is currently operating at 28.6% so far this season, leaving the Canucks to hope Luongo is the team’s best shot blocker over the weekend.
Much has been made of Luongo’s last afternoon start in Pittsburgh which resulted in injury, but almost five years later Luongo has certainly proven he knows how to prepare himself for a hockey game regardless of the start time.
Marc Andre Fleury’s breakdown last season was a big part of the Penguins’ downfall, but so far this year Fleury has silenced the doubters in Pittsburgh with solid play through six games. Fleury carries a 1.67 goals-against average and .923 save percentage into Saturday’s contest opposite fellow Olympian Roberto Luongo, however
The Flower has a lot to prove if he is to find his way back onto Team Canada a few months from now in Sochi.
To Split, Or Not To Split
Henrik and Daniel Sedin started Thursday’s game in Buffalo on separate lines but were used in a variety of different configurations, leaving the Sabres to try and match as John Tortorella continuously shifted the dynamic duo up and down the lineup.
Saturday against the Penguins I expect more of the same from Torts and the Sedins as the Canucks look for any advantages against a top-heavy team in Pittsburgh.
With Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins playing well of late Vancouver’s bench boss can afford to deploy the twins in a number of different situations, but likely won’t give up much before the puck is dropped Saturday morning.