Who: Ottawa Senators (19-26-5, 43 points, last place in the Atlantic Division, last place Eastern Conference, last place entire NHL) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (27-17-6; 58 points, 2nd place in Metropolitan Division)
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, TSN5 and RDS in Canada
Opponent Track: This is Ottawa’s first game back from their break, they’ve been inactive since January 22nd when they lost 3-2 to Arizona.
Pens Refresh: Bounced back from a bad loss to the Devils with a really good win against Tampa.
Season Series: It’s over after tonight. The Pens are 0-1-1 vs Ottawa this season, so they can earn a split with a win, but of course Ottawa is 2-0 vs the Pens so they can already lay claim to taking more points in the season series this year. The Sens won 6-4 on November 17th and then 2-1 in OT on December 8th. Both of those games were in Ottawa. This is the lone OTT/PIT game in the ‘Burgh this season.
SBN Team Counterpart: Silver Seven Sens
Tale of the tape
—Penguins don’t read this....The Senators are an inferior team based on every single metric that we track. That seems to be Pittsburgh’s problem to play down to bad teams, and no one yields more shots and goals than Ottawa who is a very bad team.
—But, at the same time, they’re not a pathetic team. 3.12 goals/game is obviously very respectable, as is shooting at a great rate. Ottawa has the offense to put up numbers and can get the puck in the net, their issues have just been that they’re so sloppy they’ll give up more than the offense can keep up with.
—Both of the Pens’ special teams units were top-5 for the longest time this season and both have been in a bit of a slump the past 5-10 games. In better news though, the goaltending is hanging around top-10 good on the season which is surprising but speaks to the turnaround.
Player stats at a glance
—The issue for Ottawa is their top two scorers and best players in Stone and Duchene are both unrestricted free agents at season’s end, both at a prime young age, and individually both are probably better off career-wise testing the waters and finding a better situation.
—Ryan Dzingel is a free agent too and has developed into quite the player. One of my favorite trivia nuggets is that Dzingel, a 7th round pick in 2011, was taken with the pick Ottawa got for trading Alex Kovalev to Pittsburgh for the ill-fated 2011 playoffs where the Pens didn’t have Crosby or Malkin.
—Due to injury Craig Anderson only played two games since December 21st, but those two games where the last two Ottawa had on Jan 19 and Jan 22. He game up 3 goals in each of the games despite a .915 save percentage and they lost both games. Typical Ottawa stuff, goalie does OK but gets shelled.
Possible Lines (based on Thursday practice)
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Bobby Ryan
Brady Tkachuk - Colin White - Mark Stone
Zack Smith - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Magnus Paajarvi
Nick Paul - Chris Tierney - Mikke Boedker
Thomas Chabot / Dylan Demelo
Maxime Lajoie / Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki / Christian Jaros
Injured Reserve: Marian Gaborik
—Doesn’t really look like THAT bad of a team, especially top-6 forwards, which sort of speaks to the stats above that this team can definitely score 3+ goals a game. Usually a last place team is punchless and lacks skill but that’s certainly not the case with this lineup.
SSS is understandably nervous about what will happen with Duchene. If he doesn’t sign it sets back a team that is still reeling from dealing Erik Karlsson.
Look. I don’t want to catastrophize too much here. I know there’s still time for the Sens to come to an agreement with Matt Duchene, and that the guy’s probably pretty busy at the moment, what with having a new baby at home and just recovering from injury. Still, as a Sens fan, it’s easy to look at the way negotiations are progressing - or not progressing - and see a familiar pattern.
The contract Ottawa reportedly offered Duchene - 8x8 - looked perfectly reasonable. Many people even considered it a bit of an overpayment. You would think that if the guy was really eager to stay, he would have signed by now.
The big problem is that if Ottawa doesn’t sort out this situation before the trade deadline, they’re going to risk losing him for nothing, which would be awful for them, especially considering what they gave up to get him.
The organization is on the thinnest ice imaginable, and if Duchene doesn’t sign an extension with them, it’s going to look very bad. It would suggest that either Melnyk wasn’t willing to fork over the money he deserves, or that he just doesn’t believe in the direction of the team.
I wouldn’t blame him at all for leaving, but you have to wonder if there’s any limit to the number of players Melnyk can drive away before something changes.
It’s a tough situation to be in, especially since Ottawa owes their 2019 first round pick (almost certain to be a top 5ish pick, if not a 1st, 2nd, 3rd overall) to Colorado for Duchene. And Duchene might not commit, so they would have to trade him for certainly less of a price than they got him for. Not many scenarios end with this going well, but if they can keep a point-per-game center and get him signed long-term, that certainly would be a positive step.
One other item is Duchene yesterday gave this quote, which I mean if you talk like this AFTER a reported Sens offer of $64 million (8 years, $8 million per), it sort of sounds like you’re ready to go
“My agent and I have been talking, and nothing’s really changed from the start. Like I’ve said all along, it’s going to be a hockey decision at the end of the day. I see certain things on TV or in the media and I laugh because I have no idea where they’re coming from.”
“Obviously there’s a decision coming up that is going to impact my life in the next little while. My wife and I have been talking about it with my agent. But at the end of the day we’ve really enjoyed our time in Ottawa. I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but time will tell, I guess.”
And now for the Pens
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Bryan Rust - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Tanner Pearson -Matt Cullen - Patric Hornqvist
Riley Sheahan - Teddy Blueger - Garrett Wilson
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Juuso Riikola
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), Derick Brassard ?
Injured: Zach Aston-Reese (broken hand, IR), Justin Schultz (broken leg, LTIR)
—Bad lines, admittedly. Brassard hasn’t missed a practice but was held out of Wednesday night’s game with a minor upper-body injury. Malkin didn’t practice yesterday and his status is unknown.
—The Pens have to hop a quick flight to Toronto for tomorrow night’s game, so the b-2-b situation looms. Do they elect to play backup Casey DeSmith tonight against a weak Ottawa team and save Matt Murray for Toronto? Makes a bit of sense.
Key to the game
Which Pens show up?
As we all know, the Pens are 1-8-1 vs. the last place teams plus poor Philadelphia. Which makes them 26-9-5 against the good portion of the league. It seems clear the Pens don’t “get up” to play bad teams, ones they know they are more talented than. But you can’t sleep walk in the NHL, if you play poorly other teams are still good enough to win.
Pittsburgh captured that Wednesday against a scrappy Tampa team:
Coach Sullivan: "When we have some personality on our bench, we usually bring it onto the ice. There was some chatter on the bench. There was some swagger - that's important for this group of players. It's important to have personality as a team and I thought we had it tonight."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 31, 2019
Can they bring the swagger tonight and actually be invested and play hard against literally the 31st place team in the league? If so, they should win fairly handily. If they get out-worked, they will likely lose yet again to another last place team.