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Penguins vs. Flames Preview: A red dead redemption of sorts

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Hockey before video games tonight for many Penguin fans

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (4-1-2) @ Calgary Flames (5-4-0)

When: 9:00 p.m. ET

Opponent Track: Calgary comes into this game over the last week trading wins and losses over their last four games; beating Boston and losing to Nashville before more recently beating the New York Rangers 4-1 on Sunday and then losing last time out to the Canadiens 3-2 in Montreal on Tuesday night.

Pens Refresh: The Pens enter tonight’s game off the thrilling 6-5 OT victory against Edmonton. The road trip continues on Saturday night in Vancouver before returning home to meet the NY Islanders on Tuesday.

SBN Team Counterpart: Matchsticks and Gasoline - a blog that asked me to write about Jarome Iginla for them this summer, I did, and they never even ran the article. How rude!

Tale of the Tape

—Shootout in the old west? You might not have to wait for the Red Dead Redemption video game. Both the Penguins and Flames score a TON of goals. Both shoot the puck very well. Neither defend great and both give up a lot of goals. Both starting goalies have a sub-.900 save percentage to start the year.

Styles make fights as they say in boxing and if this was a fight it would be two heavyweights looking to slug it out and hit each other with their best shots. Probably not one that’s going to the judges scorecards in a very technical affair, this is going to be big boy hockey and potentially another 5-4, 6-5 type of game - based off what we’ve seen so far from these teams.

Player stats at a glance

from hockeydb

—Already in his third NHL season and still at the age of 20, Matthew Tkachuk (6th overall pick in 2016) is really making a name for himself as a big time player.

—After a somewhat controversial summer trade to send out stud defenseman Dougie Hamilton, Calgary can take comfort that a piece of the return in Elias Lindholm as really been blossoming offensively with a point-per-game in the first nine contests. Lindholm only topped 12 goals twice in five seasons in Carolina, he’s already got half of that in October in Calgary.

Austin Czarnik has always been a player I’ve liked and wish the Pens could have ever since he was a college UFA. Nice to see the soon-to-be 26 year old finally get an opportunity to play a full NHL season; he’s small but skilled.

Opponent Focus

Michael, Michael, motorcycle

36-year old goalie Mike Smith played pretty well last year in his first year in Calgary but has had a rocky start. That’s led Matchsticks to wonder if backup David Rittich (who has started the last two games) might be the best bet for a good performance tonight:

Between the Flames blue line and their goaltending nothing has been a guarantee unless your last name is Giordano. Every other Flames defender has struggled on the young season and Calgary’s #1 in the pipes has been a symbol of the Calgary’s inconsistencies. Mike Smith has been the epitome of Jekyll & Hyde. One night he’s on, one night he’s off and there’s been no no in between. David Rittich has been extremely solid in limited action, but the team has been weak in front of him.

Since shutting out Nashville on October 9th, Smith has given up 5, 2 and 4 goals in his last three starts. As you could guess, he only won the middle start of that bunch.

The 26-year old Czech native Rittich played very well stopping 44/45 shots on Sunday against NYR, which earned him a second-straight start for CGY’s previous game against Montreal. He lost, but still managed to stop 37/40, so it will be interesting to see if they stay with his hot hand or go back to the veteran starter in this one.

Tkachuk an emerging leader

Like pretty much everyone this time of year, Calgary is looking for consistency in effort and execution as the league gets going. Really liked the tone and focus of these quotes from the aforementioned Tkachuk who definitely seems like he’s growing into not only an impact player but a serious leader for this team for years to come.

And a split on any Eastern road swing - no matter how brief - can certainly never be considered the worst news imaginable.

What was gnawing away at Tkachuk, though, was the David-dependent manner in which the junket played out.

”We’re taking long shifts,” he critiqued. “Myself included.

”We’re out there, getting tired and they just keep getting these chances. Eventually, they’re going to go in. If we want to be a playoff team … you’re probably gonna laugh, this being game whatever - but these are the games we’ve got to win.

”I think of plays (from) myself, not getting it deep and then having to get back and play in your zone when they have fresh guys out there.

”It wears on teams. It wore on us tonight.”

Oh, I’m not going to laugh at you, young Matthew. The Rangers stink and you definitely need to beat them if you want to make the playoffs down the line, because surely a lot of other teams will be getting points off of them.

Tkachuk also promised, “We’re going to be better next game, that’s for sure.”

Lines

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik

Sam Bennett - Derek Ryan - James Neal

Dillon Dube - Mark Jankowski - Garnet Hathaway

Mark Giordano / TJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin / Rasmus Andersson

Juuso Valimaki / Michael Stone

—Old “friend” James Neal has but one goal and one assist to start the season after signing a five-year deal worth an average $5.75 million per. Interestingly enough, he’s been mostly with Bennett+Ryan early on ad has little time with the more skilled players like Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Monahan. From past experience we know Neal can be streaky, but it seems like he does his best work when playing with star players, not 3rd liners. Will be interesting to see how that goes for him.

—Just noticed that half of this defense is 21-years or younger. One is Hanifin who has been around the league for a while but Andersson and Valimaki will be out there against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel for the first times, maybe something the Pens can exploit?

And now for the Pens

Since this is a blog filled with Penguin information, I’m looking at new and interesting things to fill here. Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:

Penguins lines at practice yesterday

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust

Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel

Dominik Simon - Derek Grant - Patric Hornqvist

Riley Sheahan - Matt Cullen - Daniel Sprong

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak

Jack Johnson / Juuso Riikola

Derick Brassard was out from practice yesterday with an official “maintenance day” which in Sullivan-speak means they expect him to play tonight. As such, Grant (who has been a healthy scratch all season) is just a place-holder in the above, expect Brassard to slot back into his typical 3rd line center position for the game tonight.

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