When: 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox-Sports Detroit and ESPN+
Opponent Track: In their last game on Saturday before the holiday break, the Red Wings blew leads of 3-1 and 4-3 to Toronto and ended up losing 5-4 in OT. Overall, the Wings have won just three of their last 10 (3-5-2).
Pens Refresh: Winners of three straight and 8-2-1 in the last 11 and everything is great!
Season series: This is only the first game of the season series. And the teams won’t see each other again until Game 80 (for the Pens) which will be April 2nd in Detroit. Then they play again in Pittsburgh on April 4th to complete the games. Very odd schedule there, but possibly a beneficial one as most expect Detroit to be out of playoff contention by the end of the season, and those teams usually don’t win a ton of games down the stretch with nothing to play for. But, we’ll see if that even comes to pass.
SBN Team Counterpart: Winging it in Motown
Tale of the tape
—Below average at practically everything: the 2018-19 Detroit Red Wings story.
Not to pile on, they pretty much knew and accepted this would just be a year to get through and move onto developing younger players for the future, but...yeah it’s been pretty much exactly that. The Red Wings are just sort of in the league and mostly in the bottom half of the categories in everything.
—The notable exceptions are shooting percentage (which probably isn’t good given there’s not a ton of top-end skill) and save %. Which certainly is a good thing. Jimmy Howard’s .931 ES sv% ranks 5th in the whole league so far (min 19 starts). Considering that’s been in the .914-.921% range in four of the last five seasons, it’s been an excellent bounce-back year for Howard especially when you remember league average goaltending is way down so far this season. For Howard to go way up is very impressive and speaks to a great season for him.
Player stats at a glance
—The top-end of this roster is Dylan Larkin; who is a very good and exciting youngster and then....Yikes, not much else. UFA-to-be Gustav Nyquist could be one of the top trade names on the market in the weeks and months to come. He’s decent enough as a supporting player but when that’s a team’s number two scorer, it’s not a going to be a pretty situation, and to be plain it’s not right now.
—19-year old Michael Rasmussen has done well enough to stay in the NHL and not be sent down for the WJC. His selection (ninth overall in 2017) was panned a quite bit by critics, but the 6’6” player has made the NHL in his draft+1 season and put up a bit of production, so that’s probably a better start than many imagined. If he can turn into a solid player that will go a long ways for their rebuild.
—20-year old rookie Dennis Cholowski 2016 first round pick, 20th overall) is another promising youngster that’s having a good season and showing a nice progression into a big time NHL role. He pretty much checks all the boxes of the classic new-age NHL defenseman as a player who skates well, moves the puck even better with good vision and is showing that he already has enough of a two-way game to handle steady minutes and is likely to become a solid top-4 contributor for a long time to come. Pretty much every team wishes they had about three or four Cholowski’s in their organization.
—While there’s not much else besides Larkin at the top of the forward talent pool, Detroit does boast 14 players already with 10+ points this season. (The Pens by the way have 11). So it’s almost like they’re throwing out three or four third lines at you and are balanced/spread enough that any of them can pitch in, it’s just there’s not enough firepower to consistently be in a position to win.
Lines (from last Saturday’s game)
Gustav Nyquist - Dylan Larkin - Justin Abdelkader
Andreas Anthanasiou - Frans Nielsen - Thomas Vanek
Tyler Bertuzzi - Luke Glendening - Michael Rasmussen
Christopher Ehn - Jacob de la Rose - Martin Frk
Dennis Cholowski / Trevor Daley
Niklas Kronwall / Nick Jensen
Jonathan Ericsson / Filip Hronek
—Reminder that Kronwall turns 38 next month but can still lay the wood. Gotta keep that head up against him still, as NYI’s Anders Lee found out a couple weeks ago on the receiving end of of heavy but clean hit that you don’t see too often in the NHL these days. Pretty much the definition of a throwback right here-
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off last Saturday’s 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)
—No reason to change what is working though perhaps the Sullivan shuffle will be in full effect as usual.
—GM Jim Rutherford stated the obvious recently to The Athletic’s Josh Yohe that the team would prefer to see Malkin and Kessel split, so perhaps that will happen for some, most or all of this game. If so, the most intriguing point will be to see if Kessel and Brassard can get anything going on the “third” line. They really haven’t as of yet.
—Rutherford also pointed out a bit of news confirming the rumors that Tanner Pearson has been playing through a significant injury since the December 4th game against Colorado. Pearson only has one goal and no assists in the 10 games since that point. Rutherford said it was feared Pearson might miss up to a month but he has gutted it out and played every game. The Pens believe he’s on the mend, and it’s almost been a month since that injury was suffered. So look for Pearson to possibly/probably/hopefully break through on the scoring sheet and be more impactful in general sooner than later.
—At a time earlier in the month when Hornqvist and Simon were unable to play, it was definitely fortunate that Pearson could suck it up and stay in the lineup. His stats and rates will suffer when you look at the spreadsheets at the end of the year, but it’s a a credit to his character and toughness that he was able to compete and stay available, if not be tangibly productive. Gotta think the four day break probably helped him as much or more than anyone on the team.
—Also as we pointed out yesterday, Malkin needs to shoot more. Only two goals in the last 11 games, and only one of those st even strength. He should be getting 3+ shots on goal per game, like he did last year when he scored 42 goals. This year it’s 2.3 shots/game. That might not sound like a lot but it adds up. The general fan trope to yell “shoot” while there’s multiple players in the shooting lane stinks. But at a basic level Malkin needs to find more shooting opportunities and take them. He’s talented enough that the results will surely follow.
The Path Ahead
After tonight, the boys start a three game roadie that takes them up through January 2nd and stops in St. Louis, Minnesota and NYR. They get to spend New Years Eve in Minnesota, everyone but Cullen, Kessel and Guentzel must be pretty bummed out about that.