Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (20-12-6; 46 points, 3rd in Metropolitan Division) @ Minnesota Wild (18-16-3; 39 points, 5th in Central Division)
When: A special 6:00 p.m. ET start to get the game over in a bit more time for the new year celebrations to begin
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox-Sports N, WI and ESPN+
Opponent Track: Since the Pens and Wild last met in Pittsburgh on 12/20 just 11 days ago, the Wild are 1-1-1. They lost in OT to Dallas and since the Christmas break lost 5-2 to Chicago on Thursday, before bouncing back and beating Winnipeg 3-1 on the road on Saturday night.
Pens Refresh: The Pens keep on rolling now with five straight wins. Even better, they’ve outscored their last three opponents by a combined score of 14-3, really firing on all cylinders offensively and getting a ton of saves along the way in what’s been the best stretch of results by far this season so far.
Season series: As mentioned, the two teams faced off for their game in Pittsburgh just a handful of days ago. The Pens won 2-1, with both goals coming from Bryan Rust with both assists by Jake Guentzel. Casey DeSmith stopped a whopping 40 of 41 shots in the win, in what also was the last game he’s played.
SBN Team Counterpart: Hockey Wilderness
Tale of the tape
—It’s not every game the Pens play a near-equal in overall special teams play, but that’s the case today as both MIN and PIT have really great penalty kills and top-10 power plays to boot.
—As Jesse Marshall noted in The Athletic, even though the Pens are winning a ton of games, they aren’t doing it because of a spike in shooting percentage at even strength. They’ve pretty much been in the 9ish percent range all season long, so a good sign there that this hot streak isn’t being driven by an unsustainable force.
—Certainly for the first time this season the Pens now have top-10 goaltending in the league as Matt Murray has been tremendous since returning to the lineup and DeSmith has played pretty steady all season long.
—Will Minnesota be able to suppress shots, limit goals and kill penalties on this offense that’s clicking so well? That’s the key battle to watch in this game.
Player stats at a glance
—Zach Parise is on pace to have his best season since 2014-15 (where he scored 33 goals and had 62 points). Really nice bounce-back for him at age 34.
—Jordan Greenway scored the lone Minnesota goal vs Pittsburgh and he’s an intriguing young player to watch. Good hands and wheels and on a 6’6” frame will always catch attention.
—Pittsburgh native Matt Bartowski got called up for his first NHL game this season after spending the early part of the year in AHL Iowa. And he scored a big goal in his first game with the Wild too!
—Really tough news hearing Matt Dumba is out three months after surgery to repair a torn pec. That’s basically the rest of the regular season and to lose one of the team’s best defenseman for the stretch run is going to be a tough one to take.
Do the Bartman
HW was impressed by Bartowski. And that nugget about coming into their last game only averaging one goal in the last five, ouch!
here is some incredible irony when you consider that Minnesota had been absolutely starving for goals, so with Matt Dumba out long-term and Nick Seeler apparently “banged up,” they turned to a veteran journeyman that hadn’t exactly been lighting it up in the AHL… and that’s the guy that scores. Bartkowski has two goals and seven assists in 28 games for the Iowa Wild this season. He gets called up for his first opportunity with the big club, a club that has averaged just one goal per game in five straight losses and has tried EVERYTHING to get itself scoring again. Bartkowski takes one wristshot from the point and beats Connor Hellebuyck. Of course he does.
Lines (from Saturday’s game)
Jason Zucker - Eric Staal - Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise - Charlie Coyle - Luke Kunin
Jordan Greenway - Mikko Koivu - Nino Niederreiter
Marcus Foligno - Eric Fehr - Matt Hendricks
Ryan Suter / Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin / Greg Pateryn
Matt Bartowski / Nate Prosser
—As expected, a pretty similar lineup from when these teams met 11 days ago. Zucker and Greenway have switched places though, as have Kunin and Nino.
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off last Sunday practice)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Zach Aston-Reese
Dominik Simon - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Phil Kessel
Derek Grant - Matt Cullen - Riley Sheahan
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Jamie Oleksiak / Juuso Riikola
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta (day-to-day injuries)
—Remains to be seen if Rust and/or Maatta can play tonight, but both missing practice on Sunday after getting hurt Saturday night show signs that they might miss some game time.
—Big opportunity for Aston-Reese in the top spot. Sort of surprising that Simon isn’t back in his familiar wing for Crosby but it should be an interesting split as it is.
The Path Ahead
This is the second game of a three game roadie that takes concludes on Wednesday in New York to see the Rangers, for the first time all 2018-19 season! Then the Pens return home to meet Winnipeg on Friday.