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Penguins vs. Canucks Preview: Pettersson vs. Pens denied this time

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The Canucks will be down one of the league’s most exciting young players tonight

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Vancouver Canucks (3-2-0) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-1)

When: 7:00 PM Eastern

Opponent track: Vancouver enters tonight’s game as winners of their last two contest. They most recently stood tall in a swing through Florida; winning in Tampa 4-2 last Thursday night, then defeating the Panthers 3-2. This marks game 5 of a hefty 6 game road trip for the Canucks.

Pens refresh: Pittsburgh lost 4-3 in a shootout to Montreal on Saturday night. After tonight they prepare to go to Toronto for a game against the Leafs on Thursday. They’ll return to Pittsburgh but not to play before departing next week on their Western Canada road trip. The Pens and Canucks will play each other again in just 11 days in Vancouver to quickly conclude their 2018-19 games against one another.

SBN team counterpart: Nucks Misconduct

Opponent focus

Talent denied

-Thanks to a dirty late hit from Mike Matheson of Florida (earning a two-game suspension) we will be denied tonight in seeing one of the most talented rookies (if not THE most talented one) this season in Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson. Pettersson, at just 19-years old, was the 5th overall pick in 2017. He was off to an electric start, GIFs of his impressive highlight dekes, passes and shots already fill twitter, as fans gleefully waited to see what he would do next. This graphic shows how good he has been:

Those guys are all generational talents and pretty much a “who’s who” of the brightest NHL star forwards in the last 15 years. Pettersson might be more at the Laine end of this list than the Crosby/McDavid, but it’s still amazing company to be in.

Pettersson was centering a line with veteran Loui Eriksson and youngster Nikolai Goldobin. If you don’t know Goldobin’s name yet, you might after tonight. The 22-year old Moscow native has been on a roll as of late.

Goldobin is picking up right where he left off after a great stretch to close out the 2017-18 season. The speedy winger put up four goals and seven points in the final 11 games of the year in a prominent role. Through five games this season, Goldobin has put up three points (one goal) and 11 shots on goal.

After working on his play away from the puck and winning more puck battles, Goldobin is earning the trust of head coach Travis Green. The Russian winger has averaged around 12:00 of ice time through the first five games of 2018-19 and secured a spot on the second power-play unit.

Goldobin, a 2014 first-round pick, was involved in a trade deadline 2017 deal that sent Jannik Hansen to San Jose in what they hoped would boost them for playoffs. Hansen played through 2017-18 in SJ scoring 4 total goals and is now in the KHL. Goldobin is blossoming into a potential top-6 capable winger. Vancouver tends to get bashed a lot with a bad reputation but that was a trade that certainly has paid off.

Goalie, goalie

Based on salary and pedigree, Jacob Markstrom was expected to be the main starting goalie for Vancouver this year. And though it’s early, he hasn’t played well (1-2 record, 4.03 GAA and just a .883 save%), starting the first three games of the season for VAN.

With that lackluster performance, they turned to Anders Nilsson and as mentioned above, he’s played well- winning both of the last two games in Florida. Nilsson has only surrendered 3 total goals over the two games posting a .950 save % to boot.

Nilsson is a career .907% goalie and surely will regress to that later sooner or level. So the question is- will the Penguins catch him while still red hot, or will they be able to start to begin his fall back to earth?

Former Pens update

Going to add this section, since it’s always fun to talk about old friends. Brandon Sutter (who is the 3rd highest paid forward on the team, lol) has 1 goal and 1 assist in the five games this season. At 17:08 time on ice/game he is the 3rd highest forward on the team, aided by a huge 4:08 SH time per game. Hopefully Vancouver keeps going to the box that much tonight!

Defenseman Derrick Pouliot is still finding his way and trying to get established. He has no goals and one assist in the five games. In one game, he was a +4. The very next game? A -3. One step forward, one step back has been a constant in his young NHL career. At 16:43 per game, Pouliot is being used as a #5D aided by a lot of power play time.

Lines

Per Left Wing Lock, here’s how Vancouver looked in practice yesterday post-Petterssen injury:

Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Brock Boeser

Nikolay Goldobin - Adam Gaudette - Loui Eriksson

Antoine Roussel - Brandon Sutter - Jake Virtanen

Tim Schaller - Markus Granlund - Tyler Motte

Alex Edler / Christopher Tanev

Ben Hutton / Erik Gudbranson

Derrick Pouliot / Troy Stecher

Notes: The Canucks gave $3 million a year to 4th liner Jay Beagle for some reason, he’s out tonight (and the next 6ish weeks) after breaking an arm last game out...With the injuries to Pettersson and Beagle, Vancouver has recalled 22-year old forward Adam Gaudette. Gaudette (VAN’s 5th round pick in 2015) was a former teammate of Zach Aston-Reese at Northeastern and one of the best players in college last season scoring 60 points (30g+30a) in 38 games last season. He played 5 scoreless games in the NHL last season after turning pro and has 4 points (2g+2a) in 4 games this season with AHL Utica.

Players to watch: With all the Pettersson mania going on, former young, good players who were first round picks in Bo Horvat (3g+1a to start this season) and last year’s rookie sensation Brock Boeser (1g+2a) have almost been flying under the radar a bit this season it seems. They’re playing together and have formed an excellent line along with Sven Baertschi - himself a former high first round pick that has never really made it (at 26-years old he’s played parts of NINE different NHL seasons already, yet has only broken 30 points just once). Baertschi though may be putting things together a bit now with 5 points (2g+3a) in the first five games of the season.

And for the Pens

Life without Schultz, take 1

Pittsburgh will have to deal with the reality for the next 4 months tonight when they don’t have #4 Justin Schultz (broken leg). So all eyes will be on the defense with Jamie Oleksiak back from being a healthy scratch, Finn rookie Juuso Riikola on all of game #3 of his career, the various struggles of Olli Maatta and Jack Johnson.

Big wing Brass

The other big story is Derick Brassard, first line winger. Brassard sounds very upbeat and excited for the opportunity.

“I’m really confident in my ability to see the ice and making sure I can give the puck to Sid when he has open space, and the same thing for Jake,” Brassard said after practice yesterday. “We can be an effective line. If we compete hard, if we work hard, I think our skill is going to take over and we’re going to have success.”

I mean, choice A: play 3rd line minutes with Bryan Rust/Dominik Simon/Patric Hornqvist types.

Choice B: play 1st line minutes with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.

PS - it’s a contract year. Which means it’s a pretty easy choice.

“I just loved the experience,” Brassard said. “I think it’s going to being the best out of me. I just can’t wait. I want to try it again, over and over.”

No wonder Brassard is excited. Now the onus shifts to him to produce some offense to keep this audition going and help his own cause. Surely that thought is in his mind.

Return of the Muzz

Matt Murray was the backup on Saturday night, so technically he could have played if something happened to Casey DeSmith on that night, marking a potential return to action just 5 days after suffering a concussion. It’s the third concussion of Murray’s NHL career. Obviously it’s great that he’s seemingly feeling well and cleared to play so soon, but...That did seem really soon. Murray’s got a lot to show and prove to establish himself this season.

Expected Pens lines:

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Derick Brassard

Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel

Bryan Rust - Riley Sheahan - Patric Hornqvist

Dominik Simon - Matt Cullen - Daniel Sprong

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Jamie Oleksiak / Jack Johnson

Juuso Riikola / Olli Maatta