Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (2-2-0) @ Minnesota Wild (0-3-0)
When: 8:30 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Wisconsin, ESPN+
Opponent Track: It hasn’t gone great for the Battlin’ Billy G’s, with Guerin’s new squad losing 5-2 @ Nashville, 4-2 @ Colorado and 5-2 @ Winnipeg to open their season. Tonight marks the home opener for the Wild who will look to find their first win in their first home game
Pens path ahead: It’s the first road trip of the year and it’s a quick one, with the back end of a back-to-back tomorrow night in Winnipeg. The Pens then get to go back home and are inactive until Wednesday when they’ll host Colorado to start a three-game home-stand
Season Series: The Wild make their trip to Pittsburgh on January 14th
Recent history: The Pens were 2-0 last year against Minnesota
SBN Team Counterpart: Head on over to Hockey Wilderness and tell Ryan the best blogger in the game from Longwood is over at Pensburgh...He’ll know who sent you.
Tale of the Tape
(note: league-wide rankings do not include games from Friday)
—Minnesota hasn’t been good at shooting or stopping pucks in the young season, and they haven’t won a game yet either!
—It’s early and will normalize but as of Friday afternoon 14 teams have a power play 25% or better. So far the PK’s around the league have had a rough go of things. This game does feature what has been two of the better penalty kills around in the first week of the season.
Player Stats at a Glance
—This is a pretty bleak start and to make matters worse a lot of the younger guys haven’t done much to start out. Mats Zuccarello has also had an inauspicious beginning after signing a big free agent signing.
—Matt Dumba could be one of the more under-rated players in the league. He only played 32 games last year due to injury but even then still put up 12 goals and 10 assists from the blueline. Dumba has scored double-digit goals in each of the last four seasons from 2015-16 to 2018-19. The other seven defensemen to do the same are basically a who’s who of top offensive defensemen: Brent Burns, Aaron Ekblad, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Victor Hedman and Roman Josi.
Possible Lines (based on Thursday game)
Marcus Foligno - Eric Staal - Kevin Fiala
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mats Zuccarello
Zach Parise - Luke Kunin - Jordan Greenway
Ryan Donato - Joel Eriksson Ek - Ryan Hartman
Ryan Suter / Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin / Jared Spurgeon
Carson Soucy / Brad Hunt
Expected scratches: Victor Rask, Nick Seeler
Injured reserve: Greg Pateryn
—We’re using the last game lines, but what could be interesting or could be nothing all of Zucker, Zuccarello and Kunin missed practice on Friday.
—Potential Penguins’ trade target Rask has been a healthy scratch for all three games of the season so far. His trade for Nino Niederreiter will probably end up being a historically lopsided one.
Update: per Wild writer Michael Russo, Rask is expected to make his season debut tonight. Donato will be coming out of the lineup as the healthy scratch.
Wild again struggling to score
It’s been seemingly a franchise-long issue for Minnesota to score enough goals. That’s in effect this year again so far, per Dane Mizutani at Twincities.com
In fact, the forwards on the roster have yet to score a goal using their actual stick; Jason Zucker has a goal that glanced off his arm, and Zach Parise has a goal that deflected in off his butt.
Those are the kinds of goals coach Bruce Boudreau claims he wants, though that might be because he knows his personnel at this point.
“We are starting to learn about creating,” Boudreau said. “How are we getting our goals? We’re going to the front of the net or hitting us in the (butt) and it’s going in and things like that. We aren’t going to be the pretty tic-tac-toe kind of team. We have to manufacture goals.”
That message seems to have resonated with most players realizing what the Wild need to do to score goals.
“It’s just too easy for the goaltender right now,” Kevin Fiala said. “Maybe just one more guy in front or something and get dirty goals. It’s going to come.”
“It’s just getting away from the gray areas where we’re trying to make an extra pass,” Marcus Foligno added. “Just trying to force plays to make it look pretty is something that we just don’t have a lot of right now.”
It raises the question: Is that sustainable over the course of an 82-game season?
In a league dominated by skilled players who can take over a game at any moment, scoring highlight-reel goals from anywhere in the offensive zone, the Wild have more or less seemed allergic to the back of the net.
And now for the Pens..
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Potential Lines (Based on Thursday’s game)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Dominik Kahun - Jared McCann - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Adam Johnson - Joseph Blandisi - Sam Lafferty
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson/ John Marino
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), Juuso Riikola (healthy), Erik Gudbranson (healthy)
Injured: Bryan Rust (broken hand, LTIR), Evgeni Malkin (lower body injury, IR) Nick Bjugstad (lower body injury, IR), Alex Galchenyuk (lower body injury, IR)
—The Pens were off on Friday as they went on their first road trip of the season, but no major changes to their lineup is expected.
—In today’s random trivia question: Steve Mears on the AT&T broadcast mentioned Lafferty is the fifth native of Western PA to play for the Penguins, but I don’t think he got the chance to list all of the others....So, can you name the rest? (No googling!....answer below if you can’t get it by then).
—Andrew Agozzino’s stint with the NHL Pens ended on Friday by being re-assigned back to the AHL. He was on the ice for the lone goal against and didn’t really step to the pass, then got benched. Seemed a bit harsh, but so it goes. In his place comes the man they call “Blender” in Blandisi who promises as always to be a whirling dervish of activity on the ice.
Update: with two games in two days, it looks like Tristan Jarry will make his NHL debut tonight, which is probably friendlier for the backup then playing against the high-powered Jets tomorrow night in front of a tired Pens’ team.
Key to the game, as told by a quote from The Wire
(The Wire is a great show and my favorite show, so I’m going to see how long into the season I can use a quote that ties to the preview of a game)
“Mistakes have been made. We will learn from those mistakes. ‘Reform’ is not just a watchword within my administration. It’s a philosophy.” -Mayor Clarence Royce
Being down so many players, most notably of course Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins tried to run and gun with Winnipeg on Tuesday. The results were a couple of defensive breakdowns that ended up in their own net. They learned from this and reformed their game on Thursday versus the Ducks. They played more stout, took less chances, tried to limit as much as possible defensively and won.
“We probably need to play more like this anyway,” Letang said post-Anaheim game Thursday. “I thought we played a good defensive game tonight.”
The Pens’ identity is always uptempo and trying to limit opponent’s chances by denying the sheer numbers of them, but they’ll need to dedicate to learning from the past to make sure they play within what their current talent level is capable of.
Because the Pens often play lip service to “playing the right way”, but then actually doing do seems to be a hit or miss proposition from game to game (just as the Royce administration wasn’t really about reform, but just putting a coat of paint on a corrupt institution). But that’s pretty heavy and all the Pens have to do is play a responsible, smart game on the road, get pucks deep, work hard, mind their lanes and make the most of the chances.
(*Trivia answer: the five Pittsburgh area players to play for the Pens are: Lafferty, Bill Thomas, Nate Guenin, Dylan Reese and, of course, the mack daddy of ‘em all- Ryan “Bugsy” Malone)