Who: Anaheim Ducks (18-11-5, 41 points, 2nd place Pacific Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (15-11-6; 36 points, 3rd in Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, nationally the game is on NHL Network in America, it’s on Sportsnet in Canada
Opponent Track: This marks game two of a six game road swing for Anaheim, they first came east for Saturday’s game against Columbus, winning 2-1 in OT. Both the goals for the Ducks were scored by a guy you’ve heard of, named Daniel Sprong. Overall, ANA is on a three-game winning streak.
Pens Refresh: The Pens have suddenly won two straight over a Friday/Saturday back-to-back set, to boost themselves up the third place in the Metro.
Season series: This the first of the two out of conference matchups. The finale out in Cali will be next month on Friday January 11th.
SBN Team Counterpart: Anaheim Calling
Tale of the tape
—By being heavily outshot this weekend in the two games vs. BOS and LA, the Pens’ shots against average went from 31.9 to 32.8 per game. That says a lot 30+ games into the season to go up almost a full shot against per game.
—But there could be some relief on the horizon - the Ducks are b-a-double d bad at Corsi. Dead last in the league in shots/game. And they leak a huge number of shots against. Somehow they have a good record because John Gibson is standing on his head and probably playing MVP caliber hockey behind that shooting gallery of a team.
—Given the low goals per game, it’s also no wonder Anaheim is collecting young forwards for cheap like Sprong and Aberg and giving them chances, they have a non-great group up front.
Sprong’s new start
Since the PIT-ANA trade earlier in the month, Daniel Sprong has been a visible player for Anaheim. Sprong scored a goal in his first game in a Ducks jersey. He also added a shootout goal. Last game out was a true star turn in scoring two goals, including a 3v3 OT goal. Overall Sprong has three goals and no assists in five games. He’s gotten decent linemates (but at 14:50 per game in Anaheim, still a limited overall amount of playing time).
As we mentioned at the time of the trade, whether Sprong sinks or swims, it says a lot about coach Mike Sullivan’s ability to evaluate players and slot in guys who might not fit him perfectly.
The team is moving on, pretty much because they have to, but now one has to wonder if they will regret it.
Because at this point there’s pretty much only two choices:
Option A: Mike Sullivan has made a correct decision and Sprong isn’t all that good at the NHL level
Option B: The Penguins have made a painfully incorrect evaluation costing them a quality young player
Overall, we’ll see how it goes with Sprong, the end result for him is far from certain. We’ve seen him have an impact game or two in Pittsburgh, then slump away for dozens of games. He never really got a great chance in games, but he also never really made the most of the chances and opportunities that he did get. It was a vicious cycle for him in Pittsburgh with a coach who clearly didn’t value him, so we’ll see if he can put it altogether truly in a new environment.
One final, random Sprong observation- he also took his first penalty in the NHL recently with Anaheim. In 42 games with Pittsburgh over the years, Sprong didn’t get called for anything. 0 PIMs.
On one hand, that’s great to not put the team at a disadvantage by taking penalties, no doubt about that.
On the other hand, any time you’re an engaged player, and you’re fighting for pucks or battling and showing a high level of effort- you’re probably bound to end up slashing, hooking, holding, high-sticking, roughing or interfering with someone at some point over the course of 42 games, right? Even by accident?
A minor note, but just one thing to play a clean game but another thing that sort of speaks to the suggestion that maybe Sprong never displayed enough aggression or really played intense enough to make a difference or earn more in Pittsburgh. No one’s saying you need to see him drop the gloves every game to show he cares, but his stint in Pittsburgh just went by quietly without much pushback or desire to punch through and find more for himself and that is illustrated by not even taking one penalty.
Getting a new team, coach and city might be just what he needed to bring more out of his performances, as perhaps the first five games of his Ducks career has already shown.
Player stats at a glance
—Whitehall native John Gibson has blossomed into one of the premiere goalies in the NHL, and in fact leads the league at this point in saves on the season. He’s a huge reason Anaheim is where they are right now.
—One name missing above is Corey Perry, who got injured in a preseason game and is out for most of the season.
—Pontus Aberg was claimed on waivers at the beginning of this season, and with 10 goals and 17 points in 28 games is one of the best waiver pickups in recent memory.
—With so many players around the league having a point+ to start the year, Anaheim is pretty bland here. But they are deep and fairly balanced with 10 players having 10+ points so far.
Lines (from Saturday game)
Pontus Aberg - Ryan Getzlaf - Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie - Adam Henrique - Daniel Spong
Andrew Cogliano - Ryan Kesler - Jakob Silfverberg
Kiefer Sherwood - Carter Rowney - Ben Street
Hampus Lindholm - Brandon Montour
Jacob Larsson - Josh Manson
Josh Mahura - Jake Dotchin
Injured: Corey Perry, Cam Fowler, Richard Rakell, Ryan Miller, Patrick Eaves
—It’s a very young blueline core with the members in the top-6 above: 20, 21, 24, 24, 24, and 27 years old. Fowler at 27 is no old man himself. Seeing that alone, it’s easy to see why Anaheim could deal a young NHL caliber d-man like Marcus Pettersson in exchange for some forward help.
—Chad Johnson was recently claimed on waivers and serves as the backup with Miller out injured, but with rest it’s definitely expected that Gibson will be between the pipes for the Ducks tonight.
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off Saturday game)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Riley Sheahan
Derek Grant - Matt Cullen - Garrett Wilson
Brian Dumoulin / Juuso Riikola
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Kris Letang (day to day injury), JS Dea (healthy), Chad Ruhwedel (healthy)
Injured Reserve: Dominik Simon, Patric Hornqvist
—We’ll have to wait and see about the official starting goalie since both netminders played over the weekend and looked impressive in winning efforts.
—No word on Letang yet either but we’ll just list him out for now and see if anything pleasant happens.
The Road Ahead
After tonight, there are only three games left before the NHL’s Christmas break. And unfortunately for the Pens, in what has been a compressed schedule in December it will be another tight turnaround of three games in four days starting on Wednesday. The Pens will start a back-to-back by going down to DC on Wednesday to meet the streaking Caps.
Then they have to get back quickly the ‘Burgh to see Minnesota on Thursday. Finally the team will go down to Carolina for a game Saturday against the Canes and then they get four days off before their next game at home against Detroit on Thursday 12/27.