When: 9:00pm Eastern (woohoo, not 10!)
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, Fox Sports Arizona
Opponent Track: Arizona is an interesting team prone to peaks and (wait for it....) valleys. They’re 4-2-1 in calendar 2019 which sounds pretty impressive, doubly impressive considering the last game was a 6-3 win over San Jose on Wednesday (a night after the Sharks spanked the Pens). But the game before that AZ lost 7-1 to Calgary. The week before that they won three straight against NYR, Vancouver and Edmonton. A tough team to figure out from game-to-game as to if they will be very good, or very ordinary.
Pens Refresh: The west swing has a 1-2-0 record so far after a 5-2 loss in San Jose where the Pens admittedly didn’t play their best and lost to a solid team. The Pens can’t be looking too far ahead to a quick turnaround on Saturday against Marc-Andre Fleury and Vegas and the oasis of the bye week to follow after that. (By the way, I bet some fun is going to be had Sat night in Vegas after that game...Just sayin).
Season series: Arizona has already made their trip to the ‘Burgh for 2018-19, with the Pens winning a 4-0 shutout over the ‘Yotes back on November 10th. Crosby, Simon, Hornqvist and Dumoulin provided the goals and Casey DeSmith earned the shutout.
SBN Team Counterpart: Five for Howling
Tale of the tape
—You can tell by these numbers the Coyotes need more talent. They don’t shoot a lot, they don’t shoot very well and they don’t score a ton of goals. Just the look of a team without enough real high-end NHL caliber skill.
—But it also looks like a team that cares. They play low event hockey with 60.8 total shots per game. Compare that to the average Pittsburgh game of 65.2 shots/game. They are grat on the penalty kill and their Corsi is middle to the road at 5v5 so they’re not really overwhelmed, just content to play a quiet game and hopefully keep it close as the game gets late.
Player stats at a glance
—The above advanced stats are backed up by the boxcars. Clayton Keller is one of the game’s top young players and behind him? No one else on the team on pace to end up with 45+ points by the end of the season with Keller himself on pace for a 57 point team-leading season that isn’t terribly inspiring.
—From 2013-18 Derek Stepan was incredibly consistent scoring between 53 and 58 points each year. This year his production has fallen off a cliff, especially with just 11 assists so far on the year.
—Darcy Kuemper is doing an admirable job to keep AZ afloat despite the loss (again) of Antti Raanta, who was brought in to be the number one guy but hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Kuemper is the most important penalty killer and boasts a league-best, eye-popping .936 save% while AZ is shorthanded. For whatever reason he’s only average (below average really) at .908% while at even strength but has been excellent on the PK.
—That could be something to watch for tonight; can the Pens’ power play crack Kuemper? If they can score at ES it might not matter but the PP could be a tough go for Pittsburgh tonight.
—Thanks to an early-season hot streak, Arizona has a tied-for-NHL-high 11 goals while short-handed. Pittsburgh as we all know has allowed a tied-for-league high 10 goals while on the PP. Perhaps luckily for Pittsburgh seven of the SH goals have been from the stick’s of two players who won’t be playing tonight in Grabner and Richardson.
Lines (from Wednesday game)
Clayton Keller - Jordan Weal - Christian Fischer
Richard Panik - Derek Stepan - Vincent Hinostroza
Alex Galchenyuk - Nick Cousins - Conor Garland
Lawson Crouse - Mario Kempe - Josh Archibald
Oliver Ekman-Larsson / Niklas Hjalmarsson
Jakob Chychrun / Ilya Lyubushkin
Alex Goligoski / Jordan Osterle
Injury list: Jason Demers, Antti Raanta, Michael Grabner, Brad Richardson, Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak
—Have to feel bad for Arizona for what they’re missing. A starting goalie in Raanta. Key forwards like Dvorak, Schmaltz and Grabner and a defender in Demers.
—In fact, add in the non-playing salary additions of David Bolland and Marian Hossa’s contracts and Arizona has $25.3 million on injured reserve. They’ll only have $45.4 million in salary for the 22 healthy players on the roster at this point. Eight of their forwards make $1 million or less, 10 make less than $2 million. It’s as bare bones as an NHL team can get, really.
—That aside, nice opportunity for Weal to get a chance. He has been a point-per-game player in the AHL the last three seasons he was there (2013-14, 2014-15, 2016-17) but hasn’t really been able to stick in an NHL roster. The 26-year old will never have a better chance than the one he got last week when Philly traded him to AZ. No goals and one assist in his first three games as a Coyote.
—Coyotes have some bad luck. Trade Dylan Strome to Chicago, he’s scored 16 points in 25 games and getting on track there. The major part of the return, who was supposed to be an immediate upgrade in Schmaltz gets hurt (but did have 14 points in 17 games with AZ). A summer’s trade to get Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t really panned out as expected quite yet either, but Max Domi (41 points in 48 games this year) has had a star-turn in Montreal. Tough to watch.
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Lines (based off Thursday practice)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Riley Sheahan - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Dominik Simon
Joseph Blandisi - Matt Cullen - Garrett Wilson /Patric Hornqvist
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Juuso Riikola (healthy), Chad Ruhwedel (healthy)
Injured: (concussion), Zach Aston-Reese (broken hand, IR)
—The biggest change is the addition of Patric Hornqvist, who practiced with the team yesterday for the first time since suffering another concussion. He even took practice with contact.
Hornqvist: "I feel better. It's nice to be practicing again and being in contact. This is the right step to take." Added that he's not concerned about his concussion history and could be a game-time decision in the next 2 games -SK— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) January 17, 2019
Seems like the plan might be for him to play tomorrow if all continues to be well.
—Another big change is that Malkin and Brassard have switched wingers. Pearson/Simon go from playing with Geno down to Brassard’s line and the return of Phil+Geno fun appears to be back. Getting Malkin’s confidence back on track is going to be a major key
Even though he has 50 points in his first 46 games, Evgeni Malkin knows he can be better. The #Pens superstar opens up about his up-and-down season, and what he can do to get his swagger back.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 18, 2019
Story: https://t.co/ideyU40ocu pic.twitter.com/U7trWhKdCi
Seems like a guy that will benefit from getting away from the rink next week on the bye week and getting a physical and mental reset for the stretch run. The hockey season is such a grind, no more so than for a star player expected to generate so much every single game.
—Finally, making his Pittsburgh debut is Joseph Blandisi, a 24-year old with 74 career NHL games with New Jersey and Anaheim.
Joseph Blandisi just said his nickname is "Blender" because he likes to stir the pot. I feel like you all needed to know this.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) January 17, 2019
This might be his only chance to impress though with Hornqvist’s expected imminent return. Blandisi might have to out-perform a player the Pens like in Wilson with not much time at all, so the odds of that don’t seem very good.