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Game 29 Preview: Arizona Coyotes @ Pittsburgh Penguins; 12/6/2019: lines, how to watch, Phil Kessel’s return

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Phil returns to Pittsburgh as the Pens and Coyotes clash

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Who: Arizona Coyotes (17-9-4, 38 points, 1st place Pacific division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (15-9-4, 34 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division)

When: 7:00 p.m. eastern

How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Arizona, ESPN+

Opponent Track: This is game three of a four game roadie for the ‘Yotes and the back-end of a back-to-back for them, having won 3-1 in Philadelphia last night prior to traveling into Pittsburgh. Arizona has been finding ways to win of late, going 4-1-2 in the last two weeks, which could have easily been even better with 2 shootout losses in the mix. However, while their record is impressive the Goals For vs. Goals Against is only 19-16, their Fenwick is only 42.3% in the last two weeks, but they are rocking a red hot 42.9% power play.

Pens path ahead: Tonight begins a back-to-back set, the Pens have to go to Detroit to meet the winless in 10 game Red Wings tomorrow night

Season Series: The Pens head out west to play in the desert on Sunday January 12th.

Recent History: Pittsburgh has crushed Arizona in recent years, going 2-0 against them last year and on a four game winning streak overall. The Pens are 8-1-1 in the last 10 games overall against AZ. All time, the Pens are 7-1-0 hosting AZ at PPG Paints Arena

SBN Team Counterpart: Hit up our friends at Five For Howling for all the Coyote news and notes you could ever want.

Tale of the Tape

—If you’re looking for a Kessel power play affect, Arizona was 26th last year at a 16.3% rate, so they’re experienced an uptick so far. Kessel currently leads them in PP goals (5) and tied for the team lead in PPP (9).

—Team defense and goaltending have long been a hallmark of Arizona when they’re decent, and this year is no exception. They allow a lot of shots but their goaltending has been top notch this year. That’s needed since they don’t shoot often or effectively at 5v5 and rely on the power play to provide goals.

—This is the Pens’ third straight game playing a stingy defensive team (STL also ranked top-5 in goals against), so they should at least be used to having to fight through a tight-checking Western conference style, first place defensive team.

Player Stats at a Glance

via hockeydb:

—A lot of spread offense here with 10 players that have at least five goals. By comparison the Pens have nine players with 5+ goals (though only seven will dress tonight).

—There’s a Kessel trade take here for you today. Not having a reliable sniper or enough quality around has certainly hurt Phil’s stats this year, and he had a shooting slump of his own going on prior to breaking out and scoring two goals last night.

—Only Derek Stepan (18:42) averages more than 18 minutes a night so far, speaking more to the spread. The Pens have three (Guentzel, Crosby, Malkin).

—Goalie Darcy Kuemper has kinda played his way into being “the guy” despite many probably figuring Antti Raanta would be the starter if he could stay healthy. Kuemper was in net last night in Philly stopping 28/29 in the win, so one would assume it would be Raanta on the second night, but we shall see.

—Is Conor Garland the most anonymous player currently leading his team in goals in the league right now? Might have a good case for it. The 23-year old Massachusetts native was a third round pick of AZ in 2015 and did score 13 goals in 47 games last season in a year split between Arizona and AHL Tucson (where he scored 12 goals in 21 AHL games). Now in his first full NHL season, he’s continued to find the back of the net.

Possible Lines (based on Thursday game)

Forwards

Conor Garland - Christian Dvorak - Nick Schmaltz

Lawson Crouse - Carl Soderberg - Phil Kessel

Clayton Keller - Derek Stepan - Vinnie Hinostroza

Michael Grabner - Brad Richardson - Christian Fischer

Defense

Oliver Ekman-Larsson / Jason Demers

Jacob Chychrun / Alex Goligoski

Jordan Oestrle / Ilya Lyubushkin

Expected scratches: Michael Chaput, Barrett Hayton, Aaron Ness

Injured reserve: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marian Hossa’s sham of a contract

—Again with these lines and deployment, it’s almost like AZ is running with about 3 “second lines” with this type of roster.

—Jacob Chychrun is an interesting guy to keep an eye on. Also consider he has 6 goals so far of this season, the rest of the defense expected to play tonight for AZ has just 4 total goals combined (2 from OEL and 2 from old friend Alex Goligoski, zip zero from the rest).

And now for the Pens..

Infographic courtesy of the team:

Potential Lines (based on Thursday’s practice)

Forwards:

Jake Guentzel - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust

Alex Galchenyuk - Jared McCann - Stefan Noesen

Dominik Kahun - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev

Zach Aston-Reese- Sam Lafferty - Dominik Simon

Defense:

John Marino/ Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson/ Chad Ruhwedel

Juuso Riikola /Zach Trotman

Expected scratches: (healthy), Joseph Blandisi (healthy), Jack Johnson (sick)

Injured: Sidney Crosby (hernia surgery, IR), Nick Bjugstad (lower body injury, IR), Justin Schultz (lower body injury), Patric Hornqvist (lower body injury), Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery)

—It’s looking good for Bryan Rust to be back, barring any last minute changes. Schultz and/or Johnson could be possibilities but are more “wait and see” at this point, so the above just reflects yesterday’s practice, aside from making the good assumption that Letang will play.

Pens playing strong at home

The Pens have found success defending their home ice. From Pens’ PR:

With a 3-0 blanking of the Blues on Wednesday, the Penguins have extended their home point streak to nine games (7-0-2), marking the team’s longest home unbeaten streak since the the 2017-18 season when Pittsburgh won 11 consecutive home games from January 1-February 17, 2018.

Per NHL PR, Pittsburgh is now the fifth team to collect at least a point in nine consecutive home games this season, joining Boston (16 GP from Oct. 12 – present), Philadelphia (11 GP from Oct. 21 – Dec. 5), the New York Islanders (11 GP from Oct. 12 – Nov. 30) and Minnesota (9 GP from Oct. 20 – present).

The Penguins have quietly been one of the best teams at home this season, as the team ranks near the top of the NHL in multiple categories:

Category # NHL Rank

Wins 11 T-2nd

Goals 56 2nd

SHG 3 T-2nd

Goal Differential +19 3rd

Lookin’ sharp in warmups

If you get to the rink early, you’ll no doubt notice that the Pens will be in green jerseys in their pre-game preparations. Here’s why, again from the team, and a link where you can even bid to try and win one of these for a great cause.

Pittsburgh Penguins players will wear green warmup jerseys [tonight] in support of The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation Sports Matter program.

The jerseys will be available for auction for one week at pensjersey.givesmart.com, with all proceeds going to Sports Matter.

The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation developed Sports Matter to support and help save youth sports teams in need. Since 2014, they have pledged over $100 million dollars to give kids the chance to play through their Sports Matter initiative.

Additionally, during the second intermission, The DICK’S Foundation Sports Matter program will present a $25,000 donation to Hockey Sticks Together, a foundation whose mission to embrace and support kids with disabilities and inner-city youth through the great game of hockey while driving positive social change.

Among the other Sports Matter initiatives:

-Penguins coaches and front office staff will wear special green lace pins.

-All fans in attendance will receive a Sports Matter-themed cheer card upon entering the arena.

-Children attending the game are encouraged to wear their favorite sports activity uniform.

-The Orr’s Jewelers Ice Crew will be wearing green laces and Sports Matter beanies.