How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, TSN3 in Canada, ESPN+
Opponent Track: This is the first game of 2019 for the Jets and only their third since 12/23, they’ve been inactive since beating Edmonton 4-3 on New Year’s Eve on Monday and have had a light schedule recently after a ton of games early in December. Overall they’re 2-1-0 in the recent stretch, but also 7-3-0 in the last 10. Winnipeg also boasts an impressive 12-6-0 road record so far this season.
Pens Refresh: Seven game winning streak for the boys in black and gold!
Season series: Pittsburgh won 4-3 in Winnipeg on November 27th. Derek Grant, Zach Aston-Reese, Riley Sheahan and Sidney Crosby all scored goals in what was a well-balanced effort.
SBN Team Counterpart: Arctic Ice Hockey
Tale of the tape
—Pretty wild how these teams are basically mirror images of each other. They score a ton of goals and overall have done a pretty good job of limiting goals against, despite yielding a high number of shots. Solid special teams on both sides for both groups.
—Winnipeg scoring 3.4 goals/game this season with below average 5v5 shooting is a scary proposition. Just imagine if they hit a hot streak there, “look out!” /Steiggy voice.
—Of course though it might balance out if the 28% power play doesn’t last forever. It’s bonkers the Pens are hitting slightly higher than last year — when they had the best full season power play in years! And they’re only in 5th place in the league.
—Then again, maybe the Jets power play isn’t going to regress that much. In our 11/27 game preview we had them at just an unfair 30.4% power play. It’s “only” down to 28.1% five weeks later with a lot more data involved. At this point has to be a very real chance they end up having a super-strong 25%+ PP by the end of the season.
—Weirdly enough, as I track these the Corsi for Pittsburgh was top-10 is now slumping away down to 17th. The save% has cracked the top-10 for the first time this season. More shot attempts are being allowed but more saves are happening in the past month. You probably already knew that though.
Player stats at a glance
—The last time these teams met on 11/27, Laine had 19 goals in 22 games (including an absurd 11 in the prior four games). Pittsburgh was able to shut him out that night and he’s really cooled down since then, scoring only five goals in his last 17 games.
—If you’re frustrated about Matt Murray, Connor Hellebuyck is another cautionary tale that goalie play can vary so much from year to year, with no real rhyme or reason. He’s only got a .908 save% so far this year, after finishing with a .924% and being the Vezina runner-up last year.
—Per Hockey-Reference, Hellebuyck already has five “really bad starts” in 30 outings in 2018-19. He only had six bad starts out of 64 last year. It’s very tough - even for the very best young goalies - to count on consistency these days.
Lines (from Monday’s game)
Nikolaj Ehlers - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Connor - Bryan Little - Patrik Laine
Mathieu Perreault - Adam Lowry - Brandon Tanev
Andrew Copp - Jack Roslovic - Brendan Lemieux
Josh Morrissey / Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot / Tyler Myers
Dmitry Kulikov / Joe Morrow
Artic Ice spotlighted Myers and the group effort on defense to replace the injured Dustin Byfuglien as the key performance tonight in their preview:
With Dustin Byfuglien on the shelf long term, and the Penguins offering strong offesnive depth, it will be on more than just the top pairing of Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba to shut things down. Tyler Myers and friends will have to step up. Myers’ ice time jumped by almost four minutes in the game against Edmonton, and more of the same can be expected tonight.
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins
Lines (based off last Wednesday’s game)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Tanner Pearson - Derick Brassard - Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-Reese- Matt Cullen - Riley Sheahan
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Juuso Riikola
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Derek Grant (healthy), Jamie Oleksiak (healthy)
—Not sure what the spreadsheets say, but it feels as if the Pens have found something on the 4th line lately. Cullen has assists in two straight games and four points (1g+3a) in his last 10 games. That’s modest, but important secondary scoring help from the bottom of the lineup. Sheahan hasn’t offered a ton of scoring but can take faceoffs for the PK group that’s playing well. Sheahan also has 5 goals in half a season, which is more than a usual full season’s output from the Kuhnhackl’s and Rowney’s of the world that used to bog down the 4th line, so that’s a plus. And ZAR keeps chugging along, able to play well above a 4th line level.
—Simon recorded his first goal in 17 games last game. He’s got to produce more in a top role, especially with Aston-Reese (4g+3a in his last 11 games) actually putting up some numbers as of late. Was nice to see Simon get one as the result of Malkin finding him with a great pass, still feels like that Simon-Malkin duo isn’t quite generating enough by way of scoring or in the feel of how they’re playing together.
Checking in on the division
The top of the Metro has become quite the jumble of teams
The top-4 of Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus and NYI is separated by just three points, thanks to Pittsburgh and New York rattling off current lengthy winning streaks to catch up to the two teams that set the division pace early in Washington and CBJ.
The top three teams all play tonight - so with favorable results the Pens could be tops in the division tonight in points. Though games in hand is a slight factor with both WASH and CBJ having a future opportunity to win and pull past the Pens.
No matter how tonight shakes out probably isn’t that relevant but at the mid-way point of the season it’s going to be quite the four-way dance up top to sort out playoff positioning.
The Path Ahead
Sunday is game two of the homestand with Chicago coming to town, and next Tuesday it wraps up with Florida. Then the Pens hit the road for a five game western swing to hit up the three California teams plus Arizona and Vegas before the bye week begins.