Previous matchup against Predators provided a spark for Penguins earlier this season.


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It was Nov. 15, and the Penguins were trying to shake a three-game losing streak when the Nashville Predators came to town. They spotted the Predators a one-goal lead, then reeled off four unanswered goals for a 4-1 win that launched a 16-3-1 surge.

That 20-game stretch, which included winning streaks of three, five and seven games, is a large reason the first-place Penguins hold a 14-point lead over Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division and a three-point lead over Boston in the Eastern Conference.

Tonight, the Penguins carry just their third three-game losing streak into a rematch with the Predators, this time in Nashville, Tenn. Could this game set off a similar spark?

“Let’s hope so,” Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said Monday after practice at Southpointe. “It would be nice to go on that kind of run.”

The earlier game against Nashville featured a Penguins team clicking on all cylinders.

“We were not only able to get four unanswered, but we were able to really put the heat down in that game,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I thought we played a really strong game. It did start us off against some tough opponents, and we played good hockey after that.

“We’re in a very similar spot right now. It’s an important game for us, to get on the right side of the ledger, to get a win, but, more than that, [to address] how we play, which we established last time against Nashville.”

Center Sidney Crosby recalled that in the November three-game losing streak, the Penguins were playing good defensively but weren’t generating much offense. They had scored once each game in losses to the New York Rangers, St. Louis and Philadelphia.

“Even in the games we lost, we were defending really well, and, eventually, our offense kind of caught up,” Crosby said. “That’s probably a good thing to be reminded of. That’s something we need to get back to as far as defending.”

In this three-game losing streak, opponents have racked up 15 goals against the Penguins.

Keeping things in perspective

Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen has tied his career highs in goals (seven) and points (35) with nearly a quarter of the season remaining. He also leads the NHL in plus-minus ratio at plus-31.

So which of those statistical achievements make him prouder?

“I played with a guy once who said, ‘Stats are for losers — unless you have them,’” Niskanen said, with a wry smile.

Niskanen originally set his goal mark as a rookie with Dallas in 2007-08 and set his points mark the next season, also with the Stars.

“It’s nice to produce, contribute that way,” he said.

The plus/minus, which looks at times a player is on the ice for his team’s goals and opponent goals at even strength, might be more of a measure of a player’s defensive strength, but it’s a statistic that some dismiss as not really defining a player’s value.

“I hate it,” Niskanen said. “I’m saying that now when it’s good. I’ve been on the other end of it, too, when you feel like you’re playing pretty well and you can’t buy a plus.

“The idea of the stat is good, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s more of a team thing than people realize.”

Niskanen doesn’t need stats to evaluate his game.

“My overall play has improved in a year,” he said. “That’s what I’m most proud of.”

Kobasew on waivers

At the same time that Chuck Kobasew was practicing on the fourth line at Southpointe, the Penguins were placing the forward on waivers. Teams have until noon today to claim him. Otherwise, he could be sent to the American Hockey League or kept on the Penguins roster.

Kobasew, 31, had a strong training camp after arriving on a tryout basis and was signed. He has two goals in 31 games but has missed nearly half the games because of injuries.

Rinne to start in goal

The Penguins will face Nashville’s No. 1 goaltender, Pekka Rinne, the Predators announced.

Rinne hasn’t played an NHL game since Oct. 22 because of an infection that followed hip surgery. In a recent conditioning assignment with Milwaukee of the AHL, he stopped 33 of 35 shots over two games.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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