Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (7-7-3) @ Ottawa Senators (8-8-3)
How to watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, on Sportsnet in Canada
Pittsburgh’s precarious situation
As you may have seen or heard, the Penguins are in dead last at the moment in the Eastern Conference. 16 out of 16 teams. Just 17 points in the standings. Losers of seven of their last eight games. Without the injured Sidney Crosby. In one very real sense, this is a fragile Pittsburgh team that’s teetering on the edge of a disastrous season.
However, that’s a bit misleading too. The Pens have a couple games in hand on most of the rest of the conference. Should Pittsburgh win their next two games, their record through 19 games would be identical to the Washington Capitals (9-7-3), who currently sit in 3rd place in the division and in a playoff position as of today.
It doesn’t seem like the Pens are in that great of shape right now since they’ve been piling up losses, but a quick winning streak will have them right back in good position. That said, stringing together wins in these past few weeks has been impossible so that might be easier said than done.
Welcome back Brassard
One piece of good news in that this game will mark the return of center Derick Brassard to the lineup. Brassard has been out since the October 25th game (the 9-1 win in Calgary, which seems to be way longer than three weeks ago). It was a shame since Brassard had four assists in his last two games before leaving with the undisclosed lower body injury.
In his media availability after the morning skate, Brassard confirmed he was back and obviously was excited to get back in the lineup and play his former team. Brass also mentioned trying to get the puck to Phil Kessel as much as possible, so there you have 2⁄3 of what will be the 2nd line tonight.
Murray back in the net
Matt Murray will be back in the net for his second straight game. His GAA is close to 4 and save percentage way under .900 but Murray was pretty good last time out against Tampa. He allowed no even strength goals and made a huge save on Nikita Kucherov from point blank range.
Yes, Murray needs to keep the puck out of the net. But any goalie is in deep trouble facing Tampa’s dangerous power play on a 5v3 when his team takes three penalties in ten seconds. Given Casey DeSmith gave up a very soft goal to New Jersey in a loss in his last start, the Pens don’t really have a lot to turn to in net right now. The hope is probably that Murray can build a bit and see some positive regression. If the Pens can stay out of the box.
Get the offense going
If there’s one team playing worse than the Penguins, they will see them tonight. The Senators have surrendered 77 goals in 19 games - a whopping 4.05 goals against per contest! That’s more than half a goal more per game than the 30th worst team.
Amazingly, starter Craig Anderson has a somewhat respectable .909% behind this team. Anderson, 37, has also played in 17 of the team’s 19 games, getting a very serious and heavy workload that he probably can’t hold up indefinitely.
Still, Ottawa has little choice but to ride Anderson for as far as he will take them being as backup Mike Condon played terribly and was waived and has been sent to the minors to get some confidence back, and the current backup is 35-year old mostly career minor leaguer Mike McKenna (0-1-0, .857 save%, 5.97 GAA in 110 minutes this season) just doesn’t look up to NHL caliber.
Ottawa’s penalty kill is an almost unbelievably bad 68.3% so far this season, which led to the players’ conversation in a taxi bashing their coach and tactics there. Yeah, you can see why.
But beware the offense
Ottawa absolutely bleeds goals against, but they also have some firepower of their own. At 3.37 goals for per game, they rank 5th in the NHL in terms of offense. 21-year old Thomas Chabot has 22 points (5g+17a) in 19 games and has been terrific in stepping into the role vacated by the traded Erik Karlsson.
Up front, the names you expect to hear doing well are. Mark Stone (7g+14a) continues to be a two-way beast all over the ice. Another fellow UFA-to-be this summer Matt Duchene has 21 points as well (6g+15a), playing on pace to somewhat quietly set personal career-highs in assists and points in a season if he can keep it up.
Rookie and 2018’s fourth overall pick Brady Tkachuk is back from injury suffered early in the season and is a point-per-game player in his brief NHL career so far (4g+4a in eight games).
Chris Tierney, a piece in the Karlsson trade, has been contributing as well in a bigger role with 2g+14a to start his days in Ottawa.
Ryan Dzingel (9g+5a) leads the team in goals, Bobby Ryan (5g+7a) and Colin White (6g+5a) also are in double-digits in points on the season so far.
In fact, Ottawa has nine players with 9+ points so far. The Pens have played two less games than Ottawa, but they only have seven such players.
Most of the Pens have come off the ice...Crosby has just come out to skate. -DP pic.twitter.com/zNgt5lUdmT— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) November 17, 2018
Crosby will not play tonight, but it’s obviously nice to see him on the ice and traveling with the team. Coach Mike Sullivan said he considered Sid “day to day” but the injury could be about a week’s time. The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reported the injury is a minor neck issue, which I’m reading between the lines to be some sort of strain/pulled muscle.
Pittsburgh’s next game is at home on Monday against Buffalo, one would think Crosby might be an option for that if he’s feeling better and ready to go. If not, the following game is Wednesday night at home against Dallas and by then we should be very close to a return.
(Guessing a bit on these Pens lines)
Tanner Pearson - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Jake Guentzel - Derick Brassard - Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon - Riley Sheahan - Bryan Rust
Garrett Wilson - Matt Cullen - Zach Aston-Reese
Jack Johnson / Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin / Chad Ruhwedel
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
—It’s possible that Derek Grant could be playing for any one of the listed 4th liners here, not like anyone in that listing has been performing really well as of late.
—Even down Crosby, that top-six (and top-nine really) doesn’t look terrible on paper. Obviously #87 should take things to the next level, but this looks like a perfectly respectable NHL caliber up front tonight.
Mikkel Boedker - Matt Duchene - Drake Batherson
Brady Tkachuk - Colin White - Mark Stone
Ryan Dzingel - Chris Tierney - Bobby Ryan
Magnus Paajarvi - Zack Smith - Tom Pyatt
Thomas Chabot / Dylan Demelo
Maxime Lajoie / Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki / Chris Wideman
—Until about 15 minutes ago I had no idea who “Drake Batherson” was. Sounds like a guy in NHL19 once you play about 6 seasons in and computer generated players get in the mix. But he’s a real guy! Just 20 years old and made his NHL debut last game - even scored a goal in it. At 6’2, 190 he’s got some good size. A former 4th round pick just in 2017, Batherson (a Fort Wayne, Indiana native) played in the Quebec Junior league and this is first first year pro. He put up an impress 20 points (7g+13a) in just 14 games in the AHL earlier this season
—Random observation that doesn’t mean much (considering they have rookies in the top-six) but it stood out to me that Ottawa’s 3rd line listed here has a combined 42 points already this season. Pittsburgh’s 3rd line tonight only has a measly 16 total points. What’s wrong with that picture?
Also goes to point out that the Sens might have a bit more balance and punch than you expect, so hopefully the Pens are ready for what could be a very wide-open and high-scoring type of affair. Though no one here would be complaining if the Pens clamp down on defense and also can get the customary 4+ goals that Ottawa has been giving up.