When: 8:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Tennessee in, you guessed it, Tennessee
Opponent Track: After a very slow start to the season, the Preds are arguably playing their best hockey of the year, going 4-0-1 in their last five games going into the Christmastime break. They won 3-2 at home on Monday against Arizona in their last game.
Pens path ahead: The Pens and Preds lock horns again tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, knocking out the whole season series in about a span of 27 hours. The Pens then get two more home games in the immediate future next week against non-playoff teams in Ottawa (Monday) and San Jose (Thursday) before heading out to Montreal on Saturday January 4th.
Season Series: This is the first of the two matchups. Will any bad blood carry over for tomorrow? Doesn’t seem like you see that too much in the NHL these days.
Recent History: The Pens have done well in this one, going 10-3-1 in the last 14 games dating back to October 2010 against Nashville. PIT/NSH split wins in 2018-19, however the Pens are also 5-1-1 in their last seven regular season games in Smashville. And, hey, how about the last PIT/NSH playoff game in Nashville? That was a fun one.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out On the Forecheck for the honkey tonk hockey perspective.
Tale of the Tape
—These teams are almost mirror images of each other, with one crucial difference. Both teams are almost identical in their shots per game and allowing shots, and both among the best in the league. They both also score a ton of goals, Nashville even a bit better than the Pens courtesy of a very high shooting percentage. That one difference? The Preds goalie situation has not been very good.
—The Pens’ power play was at 25th in the league last week. Perhaps a low water mark of the season? Let’s hope anyways.
—Neither team has been very good on special teams this season, which is a bit odd since both have dominant at 5v5. Nashville’s 91 goals are 2nd in the league (one behind Colorado). The Pens aren’t far behind them. Overall for Goals For% at 5v5 Nashville is third in the league at 56.88, Pittsburgh 4th at 55.86.
Player Stats at a Glance
—How about Roman Josi with a league-high 14 defenseman goals, which is tied for the team-lead as well? That’s a pace of 31 goals too. Pretty impressive stuff, though it’s sort of a backhanded compliment towards the forwards on the team. Josi has scored at least one goal in five straight games (7G+2A overall in the last five) and was named the NHL’s second star of the week.
—Old friend Nick Bonino has settled in for a nice season too, in his third year now in Nashville. Bonino only scored 12 goals (in 71 games) in his first year with NSH in 2017-18, then had a 17 goal campaign last year, so he’s well on his way for his most fruitful season with the Preds so far.
—Now 37-years old, Pekka Rinne’s performance has gone over the cliff and potentially hit an age-related wall. Rinne put up a .927 save% two seasons ago, it was .917% last year. Now he’s staring down potentially having his first sub-.900% season ever. He does have three shutouts in his 21 starts though, so the nights he is on he is capable of playing well, but this year he’s had more subpar performances more frequently.
—And, funny enough, it’s been bad at home this season for Rinne. Rinne has a decent 8-3-3 record at Bridgestone Arena but boasts a 3.00 GAA and just a .889 save%. His road marks are better (5-2-0, 2.89 GAA, .910%),
Possible Lines (based on today’s pregame skate)
Calle Jarnkrok - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson
Filip Forsberg - Matt Duchene - Mikael Granlund
Rocco Grimaldi - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith
Colton Sissons - Nick Bonino - Austin Watson
Roman Josi / Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm / Dante Fabbro
Dan Hamhuis / Matt Irwin
Expected scratches: Yannick Weber, Colin Blackwell, Jared Tinordi
Injured: none...like at all. Must be nice, eh?
And now for the Pens..
Potential Lines (based on Monday game)
Jake Guentzel - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Dominik Kahun- Jared McCann - Zach Aston-Reese
Dominik Simon - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Alex Galchenyuk - Joseph Blandisi - Sam Lafferty
Jack Johnson/ Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Juuso Riikola / Chad Ruhwedel
Expected scratches: Justin Schultz (lower body injury), Thomas Di Pauli (healthy), Kevin Czuczman (healthy)
Injured Reserve: Sidney Crosby (core muscle surgery), Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), Patric Hornqvist (lower body injury), Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery)
—Di Pauli and Czuczman were late call-ups last week for insurance against injury with the team out in Western Canada, but weren’t needed. We’ll see if either gets into the game tonight, it would seem more likely for Di Pauli as a forward since no one on the fourth line has made much of an impact as of late.
Besting the West
Kudos to Pens’ PR for this stat: the Penguins have been dominant against the Western Conference this season. In 19 games played against the West, the Penguins have gone 14-4-1. Since there’s 15 Western teams and they play each two times, after this weekend’s back-to-back the Pens will only play nine more times out of the East in the last 44 games of the season. 21 of the team’s first 38 games are against Western foes, as we’ve seen they stack the schedule late with the most important games of the season.
Also, speaking of back-to-backs, the Penguins begin their ninth set of back-to-back games in 2019-20. So far, Pittsburgh is 8-7-1 in back-to-backs (4-3-1 the first night; 4-4-0 the second night).