Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (17-12-6; 38 points, 3rd in Metropolitan Division) @ Carolina Hurricanes (14-14-5; 33 points, 6th in Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox-Sports Carolina in the Carolinas
Opponent Track: The Canes looked flat and lost 4-1 at home to Detroit on Thursday. Before that they won 3-0 against Arizona last Sunday, but then were 0-2-1 coming into that in the last two weeks. All in all, Carolina is in a bit of a fall as of late- and they are starting a back-to-back that will see them dress like the Hartford Whalers but play in NC against Boston.
Pens Refresh: Pittsburgh is heating up, winners of four of their last five games, and two straight 2-1 wins, last time out dropping Minnesota on Thursday at home in the ‘Burgh.
Season series: This is only the first game of the season series between the two division rivals. And the two teams don’t meet again until February 5th in Pittsburgh, then again on March 19th back in Raleigh and finally the matches conclude on March 31st in Pittsburgh.
SBN Team Counterpart: Canes Country
Tale of the tape
—The more things change, the more they stay the same. Carolina, absent from the playoffs since they got Geno bounced in 2009, has long been known as a Corsi darling but one unable to get results...And this year? More of the same. Tops in the whole league 5v5 Corsi-For, tops in total shots per game, tops in limiting shots allowed. But dead last in shooting percentage, and bottom third in the league in save percentage. The more things change...
—It still speaks to the skill level needed when a team, game in and game out, fires 37 shots on goal, yet still remains 28th in goals. The process remains right, but the execution just isn’t there, hasn’t been there, and more answers are probably needed to get them there.
Player stats at a glance
—One player definitely part of the solution is 2018 second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov. The 18-year old is currently on a (short) career-high four point scoring streak and his 10 goals and 18 points in the first 33 games of his career shows an impressive adjustment to the world’s best hockey league. At only 14:49 TOI per game, he’s still being worked in slowly (especially at even strength where he’s playing barely more than 12 minutes a night) but the results so far are very encouraging for such a young player living up to his high draft stock.
—As seemingly always, the story in Carolina is that in net. After finally moving on from franchise icon Cam Ward, the established veterans haven’t given much. Scott Darling did nothing to improve form a disastrous first season last year with the Canes and is currently in the AHL. Cheap UFA addition Petr Mrazek is also under a .900 save% (including giving up 3 goals in the loss to his former team Detroit the last time out).
—The success story has been 35-year old Curtis McElhinney, picked up on waivers earlier in the season. Though he only has 197 career NHL games under his belt and is on his 7th different NHL team, he’s played much better than the other two options posting a 7-3-1 record and .920 save%. For a franchise so desperate for any goalie to show even a flash of above average play, McElhinney has pretty much bailed out any remaining chances this team still has this season.
—Old friend Jordan Staal just got taken off the IR after a brief injury.
—The duo to watch are the young Finns, Sebastien Aho and Teuvo Teravainen who are both explosive and dynamic players. Both are also restricted free agents in store for big raises this summer so it will be interesting to see the stance Carolina (a team usually near the very bottom of payroll) takes with re-signing those guys. Surely it will happen, especially under new ownership, but it pretty much needs to happen. But with those guys no longer on early career contract discounts, that figures to make continuing to build around them inherently tougher as the increases hit the bottom line.
Lines (from Thursday’s game)
Jordan Martinook - Sebastien Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Micheal Ferland - Jordan Staal - Brock McGinn
Andrei Svechnikov - Lucas Wallmark - Justin Williams
Warren Foegele - Victor Rask - Phil Di Giuseppe
Jaccob Slavin / Brett Pesce
Calvin de Haan / Justin Faulk
Trevor van Riemsdyk / Dougie Hamilton
—The holes in the lineup are easy to identify (if not fix). Martinook as a supporting player has 8 goals (nice) but only 3 assists on the season, probably want a better player with the puck with the two star players. Ferland only has 5 ES goals, and again only 4 assists suggesting a better playmaking element needed in the top-6 group. McGinn only has 2g+5a. Wallmark only has 2g himself (but 10a).
—Former highly touted prospect Victor Rask only has 1g+1a in 13 games. He scored 48 and 45 points four and three seasons ago and has seemingly regressed a bit never taking the next step.
—Also, just thinking, but Justin Faulk is about in the Pens’ sweet spot for salary they can acquire at the deadline ($4.83 million). He’s also signed for next season and a right-handed shot. If Carolina falls way out of it and wants to deal him for futures - and it seems he’s been on the trade block for a while - that could be an interesting combination.
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off Thursday game)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Matt Cullen - Riley Sheahan
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Juuso Riikola
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), Jamie Oleksiak (concussion)
—Last game on twitter I asked about the talent split and which line’s wingers were best. This is no doubt skewed by Rust’s hot streak, but the top-line won running away, which is the right answer right now. Interesting though that the 3rd line wingers are the most expensive, and still carry a lot of talent now that the forward group is healthy. We all know full lines don’t last forever with coach Mike Sullivan, but an interesting theory.
—Also, not sure about Simon’s place with Malkin. They haven’t played a ton together and haven’t meshed as well as Crosby-Simon (on the right). But, you just can’t move Rust with as red hot as he has been, so for now, here we are. It certainly feels like whether it lasts 2 more periods, 2 more games or 2 more weeks that eventually Simon will find his way back up to Crosby again once Rust cools a bit.
—It’ll be interesting to see where Sullivan goes with his goalie of choice. At this point, it looks like there’s no wrong answer. Both Casey DeSmith and Matt Murray have been dynamite as of late. Sullivan has rotated them both over the last five games, with some back-to-back considerations involved. But the last night before a long break, does he go back to Murray who was so good against a streaking Washington team? Or give the nod to DeSmith who has kept the Pens’ season afloat by playing so well.
The Path Ahead
Finally this is it. I feel tired and I just type about them. This ends a streak of 11 games in last 19 days, including the always brutal stretch of four games in six days and six games in the last nine days. Doesn’t get any more hectic than that in the NHL.
After tonight Pittsburgh gets four days off before Detroit comes to town on Thursday December 27th. Following that, the boys start a three game roadie that takes them up through January 2nd and stops in St. Louis, Minnesota and NYR.