Who: Tampa Bay Lighting (37-10-2, 76 points, first place in the Atlantic Division, first place Eastern Conference, entire NHL) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (26-17-6; 58 points, 4th place in Metropolitan Division, Wild Card #2)
How to Watch: National broadcast on NBCSN
Opponent Track: This will be Tampa’s first game since the All-Star break and their bye week, where they won 6-3 against San Jose back on January 19th. Maybe they’ll start out with slow legs? We can hope, right...
Pens Refresh: Played a game after their break, but just barely, losing 6-3 to the lowly Devils.
Season Series: This is game two of three this season. Tampa won 4-3 back on Nov. 15th in Pittsburgh. You might remember that as a game where Brayden Point scored a quick hat trick that turned the game.
The Pens will make their only trip to the nice sunny western coast of Florida next weekend for a game on Feb 9th to complete the regular season scheduled games.
SBN Team Counterpart: Raw Charge
Tale of the tape
—49 games into the season look at Tampa averaging a casual, nice, round 4.0 goals per game. Every game. Good gracious what a wagon.
—Really Pittsburgh and Tampa look like the same very good team based on these stats, it’s just that literally in every single category (save ES save%) Tampa is just slightly better all-around at everything, whether it’s generating shots and goals or preventing shots and goals, power play, penalty kill, Corsi, shooting the puck; TB is just a half-step better than the Pens so far this season at all of it.
—And even the save% is down because of an injury to their starter for a while. Backup Louis Domingue has a .905 save% in 20 games, which is actually pretty respectable since goaltending is down to a .908% average. Starter Andrei Vasilevskiy has been providing Vezina-caliber goaltending with a .925%, 20-6-2 record and GAA of 2.50.
Player stats at a glance
—Again, there’s nothing but impressive numbers here. Kucherov is currently 4 points up on Mikko Rantanen and 5 ahead of Connor McDavid for the Art Ross race.
—Seems like no one really even talks about Steven Stamkos anymore and all he’s doing this year is chugging along at a 43 goal, 95 point full-season pace.
—Team has been pretty healthy too, almost all of their top players are in the 47-49 games played zone at this point now 49 games into their season.
—The sick thing is this team has basically everyone young too, save three older players who are basically in supporting roles (Callahan, Girardi, Coburn). The salary cap might put some pressure and have them shed some pieces eventually but most the core players are signed and all at very reasonable rates too. In short, Tampa probably shouldn’t be going anywhere for a very long time.
Possible Lines (based on Tuesday practice)
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman / Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh / Erick Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev / Anton Stralman
Extras: Mathieu Joseph, Braydon Coburn
—In a salary cap world it’s tough to do a lot better than the above. Awesome talent, balance and depth there and it’s no wonder or surprise they find themselves in first place.
Lightning the best salary cap team ever?
Dom L lays out some data at The Athletic ($)
The Lightning are the league’s best team, but 125 points is a truly special mark that will be very difficult to reach. What goes up must come down in this league and Tampa Bay will likely slow down over the final two months finishing somewhere around 120 points. Even that would be impressive as only nine other teams have accomplished such a feat (though 16 played at that pace).
Regardless of where they finish, whether it’s 115 or 130 points, the Lightning have looked downright unstoppable this season in their bid to chase history. The league-leading Bolts are heavy Stanley Cup favourites as a result, by a wide margin. Deservedly so too.
Dom’s metrics have Tampa at at 26.2% chance right now to win the Cup. The next closest team and only other one in double-digits right now is Toronto at 12.0%. The traditional “second round match of doom” has been Pittsburgh-Washington, with hints of Nashville-Winnipeg as well, but this year no doubt a potential Tampa-Toronto early playoff meeting will be one of the most anticipated and biggest series in a long time.
And now for the Pens
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Bryan Rust - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Patric Hornqvist
Riley Sheahan - Matt Cullen - Garrett Wilson
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Juuso Riikola
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy)
Injured: Zach Aston-Reese (broken hand, IR), Justin Schultz (broken leg, LTIR)
—Johnson left Monday night’s game early but skated at practice yesterday and was described to have a charley horse type injury. Given that he did skate and is a tough guy, probably count on him playing tonight.
—The team also called up Teddy Blueger, but where will he fit?
Here’s what Jim Rutherford told me yesterday about Teddy Blueger, who was recalled today: pic.twitter.com/FE0VTFEnLD— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) January 29, 2019
It makes sense to only use Blueger as a center at this point, would that mean shifting Cullen over to wing and scratching one of Sheahan or Wilson? Or keeping Blueger as the extra body for now?
Considering Jim Rutherford told Mackey on Sunday there was no “opportunity for Teddy Blueger with the guys at center they currently have” and then calls him up on Monday that is very interesting and really more than hints that a trade of a center has to be coming soon, right?