Who: Boston Bruins (17-10-4, 38 points, 4th place Atlantic, Wild Card #1) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (13-11-6; 32 points, 4th in Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, NESN in New England, Sportsnet in Canada
Opponent Track: The B’s enter tonight’s game on a three game winning streak - defeating Arizona 4-3 in Boston on Tuesday night with recent wins against Ottawa (in OT) and Toronto last week. However, before this three game win streak was a three game losing streak to start the month, so they’ve been up and down in December.
Pens Refresh: The Pens suffered a bad loss to a bad team on Wednesday to end a 1-1-1 road trip
Season series: This the first of the two out of conference matchups. The teams will meet in Pittsburgh on Sunday January 6th in a couple of weeks for the other game.
SBN Team Counterpart: Stanley Cup of Chowder
Tale of the tape
—The Bruins are kind of a weird team. They don’t score many goals - but they have a really good power play. They don’t give up many goals - but they have a poor penalty kill.
—One thing they do get is really great goaltending, and often play games the stats people describe as “dull” - with low chances for either team. Boston has 583 scoring chances for compared to 586 against, so it isn’t as if they are a dominant team that totally controls the play.
—To speak to being “dull”, the 31 Bruins games this season have averaged 37.7 scoring chances at 5v5 per game for both teams combined. A team that is not dull is the Pittsburgh Penguins with 690 5v5 SCF and 614 SCA, which adds up to 43.4 total 5v5 scoring chances in each game so far for Pittsburgh.
—Obviously the one team averaging 5.7 more scoring chances per game has seen 6.53 total goals/game happen. The other team (Boston) has had just 5.26 goals/game this season. So it should be a clash of styles between a wide-open Pittsburgh club and a more defensive-oriented Boston team.
—Pittsburgh (77) is among the league-leaders in 5v5 goals. Boston (43) is by far the lowest 5v5 goals allowed in the NHL, thanks in large part to the best 5v5 goaltending in the NHL so far this season.
Young players emerging
The Bruins have some injuries, but have found some fresh faces ready to step in and deliver, like they did earlier. Nice article here from SCoC to check out the newly united line that is going to be having some confidence.
Down 2-0 Tuesday night, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson picked up the puck at the offensive blue line and headed into the offensive zone. Coyotes defenseman Jordan Oesterle chased Forsbacka Karlsson down the half wall. As if someone switched control of the Coyotes players, Jakob Chychrun slid over to challenge the young Swedish center, leaving the slot wide open. Forsbacka Karlsson recognized this and threw the puck across the ice to Danton Heinen. The Denver University alum finished the play by putting the puck into the back of the net.
For Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, it was the first assist of his young NHL career. For Heinen, it was his fourth goal of the season in a contract year. Ryan Donato also grabbed an assist on the play, his second on the year.
Player stats at a glance
—Boston is a very top-heavy team. They have six players about at a point/per game or better, led by the young star David Pastrnak and then....not a lot of production behind them.
—Jaroslav Halak signed over the summer for 2 years at $2.75 million and has been one of the season’s best stories with his solid play. Casey DeSmith has been solid but imagine a world where Pittsburgh prioritizes signing a veteran backup like Halak to add goalie depth instead spending $3.25 million on a 3rd pairing defenseman who has struggled everywhere? Ahh, dreams.
Lines (from Thursday practice)
Brad Marchand / David Krejci / David Pastrnak
Joakim Nordstrom / Colby Cave / David Backes
Ryan Donato / Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson / Danton Heinen
Gemel Smith / Noel Acciari / Chris Wagner
Torey Krug / Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk / Charlie McAvoy
John Moore / Steven Kampfer
Injured: Jake Debursk, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller
—Other than that first line, woof. Yeah the 3rd line has youth and energy as spotlighted above but seriously those bottom three lines look out of an AHL lineup, don’t they? But Boston is on a three game winning streak and holding steady in a tough division, so it’s not like they can’t be competitive patching these pieces together. Still not a lot there beyond on line, a good team-defense philosophy and some quality goaltending.
—Nice to see McAvoy still in the lineup, he got crunched on a suspendable hit by Zach Hyman not long after returning to the lineup from a concussion
—David Backes had a close call too, almost getting accidentally kicked in the face by the skate of another player.
—SCoC believes Halak will be the starting goalie. WHOOPIE!!!!
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off Wednesday game)
Jake Guentzel - - Sidney Crosby - Derick Brassard
Tanner Pearson - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-Reese -Riley Sheahan -Bryan Rust
Derek Grant - Matt Cullen - Jean-Sebastien Dea
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), Juuso Riikola (healthy), Garrett Wilson (healthy)
Injured Reserve: Matt Murray, Dominik Simon, Patric Hornqvist
—The Pens traveled back from Chicago yesterday, so there was no update about Patric Hornqvist. Given the recent less-than-optimistic news, one would think probably no Hornqvist for at least tonight, but count out the Viking warrior at your own risk.
—Whenever Hornqvist is able to return, someone would have to leave the Pens roster to stay under 23 healthy bodies, and that someone is almost assuredly Wilson.
—Coach Mike Sullivan cited Matt Murray only having one full practice back with the team as a reason that DeSmith played again, so would that hint to another DeSmith night? Or will giving up 4 goals in a loss be enough to want to see the starter back in the net?
The Road Ahead
Pittsburgh goes back-to-back with a visit from Los Angeles tomorrow. Then Daniel Sprong and the Anaheim Ducks come to town on Monday.
Next week is another b-2-b with a game Wednesday 12/19 in Washington and then a quick return back to the ‘Burgh to see Minnesota on Thursday 12/20.