NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, March 1st (All times Eastern)
Pittsburgh Penguins (40-15-4) at Chicago Blackhawks (35-12-14), 8 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The NHL couldn't have found a better venue for the first ever regular-season meeting between Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.
Fresh of winning a gold medal together at the 2014 Winter Olympics, the two Canadians go head-to-head outdoors on Saturday night as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Chicago Blackhawks and Soldier Field.
This marks the fifth of six outdoor games on the league's schedule this season and the fourth of the "Stadium Series." The Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks will also play under the sky on Sunday afternoon in the Heritage Classic at BC Place.
Saturday night will mark the third outdoor game for the Penguins, who beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 in the first regular-season outdoor game on U.S. soil. Pittsburgh lost 3-1 to the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field in the 2011 Winter Classic.
"For a few of our guys, this is going to be the third time they've been able to play outdoors," noted Pens coach Dan Bylsma. "I think sometimes the elements are always a little bit different. But having said that, you can probably overcoach this game, and that's something I think I'll remember from the last one."
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, host their second outdoor game. They dropped a 6-4 decision to the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in the 2009 Winter Classic.
Toews had an assist in that game, while Duncan Keith and Kris Versteeg were among the goal scorers for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane did not have a point.
Evgeni Malkin had a goal in the loss to the Capitals, while Marc-Andre Fleury picked up the setback after giving up three goals on 32 shots faced. He did have an assist on Malkin's tally.
Crosby did not have a point versus the Capitals, but notched an assist and the shootout winner versus the Sabres in 2008.
Crosby, the NHL's current season leader with 51 assists and 80 points, will make just his second career regular-season trip to Chicago. He last faced the Blackhawks as a rookie on Jan. 13, 2006.
Toews has four goals and an assist in five previous meetings with the Pens, including a hat trick on Feb. 27, 2009. He and Crosby are among several players in this game that won a gold medal with Team Canada at the recent Olympics. That list also includes Keith, Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz and Patrick Sharp of Chicago.
"It's kind of weird that it's taken this long," Crosby said of facing Toews. "I think I've been hurt for a few games, but I think just knowing that either we're going to go head-to-head or if not, I think that he's a guy who's pretty competitive.
"That whole group of guys that I've played with for the last few weeks are pretty competitive guys and have a lot of pride, so I'm sure they'll be up for this one. But yeah, going head-to-head against (Toews), I'm sure it'll be a good challenge."
Both the Pens and Blackhawks come into this meeting among the leaders in their respective conferences. Pittsburgh tops the East with 84 points, giving it a 15-point edge over the New York Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division, while Chicago is even with St. Louis atop the Central Division.
The Blackhawks, also with 84 points, are five back of the Anaheim Ducks for the most in the West and overall NHL standings.
Chicago has lost two straight games and is 3-4-3 in its past 10 games. The Blackhawks came out of the Olympic break with a 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Thursday.
Peter Regin scored with just 11.6 seconds left to play and Corey Crawford posted 22 saves for the Blackhawks, who now try to get on track among the elements and against a top-notch team in Pittsburgh.
"I'd say it's a great test for us," noted 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "We're coming off a couple disappointing losses on the road. Finally be back and playing the home game and playing in this environment should make for a fun setting for everybody. There were some guys on the other team that definitely get your attention."
Crawford figures to get the start and it would be the second of his career versus the Pens. He made 24 saves in a 3-2 shootout win at home on Feb. 20, 2011.
Pittsburgh got a point in its first game following the Olympic hiatus, falling 6-5 in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Crosby, James Neal, Olli Maatta and Brandon Sutter all had a goal and an assist, while Fleury stopped 24-of-29 shots faced before yielding the lone shootout tally.
Pittsburgh also lost in a shootout in its final game before the break and is 4-1-2 in its last seven. The Pens open a five-game road trip tonight.
Fleury is 4-1-2 with a 2.49 goals against average in his career versus the Blackhawks, who lost 3-2 in Pittsburgh in the most recent meeting between these teams on Dec. 20, 2011.
03/01 10:39:48 ET