The 2013-2014 season has been one of runs for the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the team has embarked on one three-game and two four-game winning streaks, but it has also had to endure a pair of three-game losing streaks.
The team enters its showdown with the Nashville Predators Friday night having lost three straight, but it still leads the Eastern Conference's Metropolitan Division by a point.
For the Penguins, creating offensive opportunities isn't so much the key as is converting on those chances.
Head coach Dan Bylsma's team comes into the matchup averaging 30.9 shots per game, which is seventh in the NHL. What the team does with those shots will be the ultimate struggle. It's been plaguing the Penguins during the current losing streak, as each loss has only seen one goal scored.
Nashville is in the middle of the pack in terms of allowing shots on goal (30.0), and the Penguins should get ample opportunities to convert.
However, the high shot totals haven't led to the kind of prosperity that you would expect out of a Cup contender in terms of wins and losses. When outshooting opponents, the Penguins have lost six times, which is the second-worst total in the league—behind only the lowly Edmonton Oilers.
As Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic noted, the Penguins need simplicity in their game so that the flashiness can develop organically.
The Penguins need to get a whole lot humbler, they need to take something off all those highlight-labeled corner shots, they need to work together for rebounds, and they need to behave as if they're interested in those rebounds.
All the other, prettier stuff will open up as a result.
According to the Penguins' official Twitter feed, the defense should get an additional boost against the Predators. Paul Martin, who was out with a lower-body injury, is expected to return.
Defenseman Kris Letang was also mentioned as being ill, but he is expected to play.
The Predators come into Friday's matchup on the tail end of a seven-game road trip and are losers of three straight.
Nashville sits in last place in the Western Conference's Central Division with 18 points, 12 points off the pace.
With a goal differential approaching minus-20, the Predators have missed the presence of goaltender Pekka Rinne, who has been out since late October with a hip infection. Over the span of time that Rinne has missed, the Predators' goal differential has dropped from minus-two to minus-19.
Carter Hutton has struggled as the replacement in net, with a 3.53 goals-against average. Marek Mazanec made the start Tuesday night against the New York Islanders.
Nashville's offense hasn't been successful either. The Predators own the Western Conference's worst offense in terms of production, averaging 2.11 goals per game. Fifteen of Nashville's 38 goals have come in the first period, so scoring first will be crucial in taking this game.
The Penguins are 9-1 when scoring the first goal of the game, but they are 2-6 when surrendering the lead at the outset. When leading after the first period, the Penguins are 5-0.
For Nashville, the situation is especially dire. The Predators have secured six of their eight wins when leading after one period of action (6-0-1). They are 0-6 when trailing after the first intermission and are 0-8 when losing after the second period.
Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal in the Penguins' 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday, which snapped a streak of seven games without a goal. His line has otherwise been absent on the scoresheet in recent games. Pascal Dupuis has one point in his last five games, and Chris Kunitz has been held pointless in his last two appearances.
Getting production out of the team starts at the top with the first line.
The last meeting between the two teams was March 22, 2012, when the Penguins won 5-1 on the back of James Neal, who registered a goal and four assists.
Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to be in net for the Penguins for the 7:00 p.m. EST puck drop from the CONSOL Energy Center.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com.