Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (19-10-4, 42 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ Calgary Flames (18-13-4, 40 points, 4th place Pacific Division)
When: 9:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh viewing area, Sportsnet West in Canada, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Penguins defeated the Flames in overtime in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago on November 25th, in what would be the last game Bill Peters coached. The team, and league at large, then had to deal with the fallout of the suspension (and eventual firing) of Peters due to player abuse and racist comments, but surprisingly enough the Flames were able to go on a seven game winning streak despite the unexpected and unfortunate bombshell going off. That streak only came to an end in Calgary’s last game on Saturday, a 4-0 home loss to Carolina.
Pens path ahead: Pittsburgh will finish up the games in Alberta for the season on Friday night with a game against McDavid and the OIlers. Then have to jump over to Vancouver for a Saturday night game and then....Christmas break until 12/27.
Season Series: As mentioned above, the Pens took a 3-2 OT win over Calgary a bit earlier. Alex Galchenyuk and Jared McCann had goals that night, with Jake Guentzel winning it in extra time. Tonight will be the last regular season game between the two this year.
Recent History: Pittsburgh is 3-1-3 in the last seven meetings between the two clubs. As long as you’re not losing in regulation against out of conference opponents, that’s good!
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out our pals at Matchsticks and Gasoline for one of the more colorfully named blogs on the network.
Tale of the Tape
—One reason for Calgary’s recent success has been a positive regression in their shooting. On the Nov 25 preview, we tracked them at shooting a league-low 5.94%. They’re only up to 28th now but have improved their shooting by 1 whole % (well, .99% but come on) in a very short amount of time. As a result, they’re filling the net and winning hockey games. Is this a result of sheer good luck? Coincidental timing (or not) of a head coaching change? Different theories can abound but what can’t be debated is the the Flames are (don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it)....a red hot team right now when it comes to shooting the puck.
Player Stats at a Glance
—With Calgary going 7-1-0 since their OT loss to the Pens, the best players have been Sean Monahan (4G+5A in the last eight game stretch) and then a host of players with six point. Johnny Gaudreau (4G+2A) and Matthew Tkachuk (2G+4A) are names you would expect, but an up and coming player to look out for would be Dillon Dube (2G+4A in the last six, and that doesn’t count the goal he scored against the Pens!). Derek Ryan also has six points in the last eight.
—Michael Frolik (3G+2A in last eight games) and, believe it or not, Milan Lucic (3G+1A) have also been finally showing signs of life and production for the Flames in the past two weeks.
Geoff Ward finding good lines
New coach Geoff Ward has been able to settle on some consistent lines that have been working. From Matchsticks last week:
It was just under three weeks ago that the Calgary Flames fell to the St. Louis Blues by a score of 5-0, extending their losing streak to six games and things were looking very bleak. A rare bright spot towards the end of the streak was the newly formed line of Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan, and freshly called up Dillon Dube. Amid a sea of mediocrity, that line was a beacon of hope. We talked about it briefly on our podcast (check it out on ITunes and Spotify!), and at first we kind of dismissed as “How bad things must be going if that line has been your best line!”. A few weeks later, the Flames as a whole have turned things around, but the line that’s been at the center of that turnaround has been the Lucic-Ryan-Dube line.
Despite some tinkering in the opening lineups by interim head coach Geoff Ward, that line has always seemed to return by the midway point of the game. Ward has tried Johnny Gaudreau with Lucic and Ryan a few times, but it seems to have worked best for everyone to keep Gaudreau up with Sean Monahan and Dube down with his pair. As a result, the Flames may have finally found a lineup that allows them to roll three solid lines, plus the fourth line has been going the last few games as well
Possible Lines (based on Saturday game)
Matthew Tkachuk - Elias Lindholm - Andrew Mangiapane
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Mikael Backlund
Milan Lucic - Derek Ryan - Dillon Dube
Tobias Rieder - Mark Jankowski - Michael Frolik
Mark Giordano / TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin / Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington / Rasmus Andersson
Expected scratches: Zac Rinaldo, Michael Stone
Injured reserve: Sam Bennett, Austin Czarnik, Juuso Valamaki
—Again, watch out for that third line with Dube and Ryan being consistent supporting scoring options in the past few weeks and Lucic actually able to shake off the cement blocks on his hands and feet to chip in a bit as well.
And now for the Pens..
Potential Lines (based on Monday practice)
Jake Guentzel - Evgeni Malkin - Dominik Simon
Dominik Kahun- Jared McCann - Zach Aston-Reese
Alex Galchenyuk - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Joseph Blandisi - Sam Lafferty - Stefan Noesen
John Marino / Kris Letang
Jack Johnson /Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson/ Chad Ruhwedel
Sick and unknown: Bryan Rust
Expected scratches: Juuso Riikola (healthy)
Injured Reserve: Sidney Crosby (core muscle surgery), Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), Patric Hornqvist (lower body injury), Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery)
—Malkin is officially a “game time decision” according to Sullivan yesterday, but after missing the last two games due to illness it looks like the big guy is chomping at the bit to get rolling.
Winning in Western Canada
The Pens have been AWESOME on the road out west. Check out this from Pens PR:
[Today’s] game signals the beginning of the team’s annual trip through Western Canada, as they’ll take on Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver over the next five days. Last season, Pittsburgh went a perfect 3-0, as they defeated the Oilers on October 23 (6-5 OTW), the Flames on October 25 (9-1 W) and the Canucks on October 27 (5-0). Last year’s trip was highlighted by Sidney Crosby’s sensational overtime winner in Edmonton, a nine-goal outburst in Calgary, and goaltender Casey DeSmith’s second career shutout in Vancouver. The Penguins outscored their three opponents by a 20-6 margin on that trip.
Pittsburgh has historically fared well on its Western Canada swing. Over the last nine seasons that they’ve made the trip dating back to the 2007-08 season, they’ve gone 19-4-4 which includes a 6-1-2 record over the last three seasons.