How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Carolina
Opponent Track: A few up and a few down seems to be Carolina’s trend, they just lost 4-3 in OT on Sunday afternoon at home to Calgary. The game before in their first game back from the break was a 5-2 win Friday against Vegas..Before that they were 2-2-1 in their last five heading into the bye week.
Pens Refresh: Up and down themselves lately the Pens went 1-1 over the weekend beating Ottawa on Friday before dropping a 3-2 game in Toronto on Saturday.
Season Series: Despite being division rivals, there’s only been one game so far- a 3-0 win by the Pens in Carolina on Dec. 22nd. After tonight the teams meet again on Mar 19 in Carolina again and then Mar 31st back in the ‘Burgh to close it out.
SBN Team Counterpart: Canes Country
Tale of the tape
—Same as it ever was - Carolina is a team with an excellent process when it comes to shot-based stats, but are let down by the results of not being able to score much on their shots and having poor goaltending that doesn’t stop the pucks they do see. A tale as old as time, unfortunately.
—Pretty cool if you like offense that only 14 teams are allowing fewer than 3 goals per game this season. Lots and lots of goals in the NHL this year.
—The Pens now have top 10 5v5 goaltending and shooting, to go along with top-10 special teams units as well. That’s pretty rarefied air. I also still get the sense Pittsburgh’s goaltending has been a little under-rated this season, even with a bad start from Matt Murray. Overall it has been pretty good relative to the rest of the league where goaltending has been down.
Player stats at a glance
—Where would this team be without veteran waiver wire pickup Curtis McElhinney? McElhinney has been very impressive after a brief chance was given to UFA bust Scott Darling who once again fell flat on his face this season. That Carolina can be only 3 points out of a playoff spot with that level of netminding is pretty remarkable.
—At 37 years old, Justin Williams just keeps on ticking, on pace for a pretty impressive 47 point season.
As Canes Country points out, the loss of Jordan Staal (injured in early December, returned for two games in last December and has been out ever since the Pens game in 12/22 with concussion symptoms) has been a tough one.
After a deflating loss on home ice against the league-worst Ottawa Senators before the All-Star break, Rod Brind’Amour pointed to something that often gets overlooked.
“We didn’t start with the puck, ever,” the Canes’ head coach noted. “You have to start with the puck. If you lose a draw and you’re in your own end for 20 seconds, or whatever, you wasted that shift. That’s a huge area we have to get better at, among other things.
“You gotta remember, we’re missing a big guy here (Jordan Staal). This is the stuff that starts to creep in, I’ve been saying it for a long time. He takes 30 faceoffs every night for us and he hasn’t been there for a while. The deficiencies that we have are starting to creep in, and tonight it was evident. Generally, that’s a stat (faceoffs) that you can look at and see if you’re engaged or not.”
The areas that Staal, who has now missed 23 games with a concussion, leaves his stamp on a game aren’t very glamorous. He won’t score 30 goals and he’ll be lucky to reach 50 points, but you know for damn sure that he will win upwards of 60% of his draws on a nightly basis and play his defensive role at a high enough level that makes him worth his lofty $6 million price tag on an annual basis.
While saying he’s a 60% winner in faceoffs is a little bit of an exaggeration (Staal’s at 56.6% this season and last), the amount Carolina misses Staal is not embellished at all. Especially for a team whose actual on ice salary tonight (i.e not counting buyouts and Darling buried in the minors) is going to be just $51.93 million. Losing out on a $6 million stud center hurts a budget team all the more.
Possible Lines (based on Thursday practice)
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Justin Williams
Micheal Ferland - Lucas Wallmark - Teuvo Tervainen
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Martinook - Brock McGinn
Warren Foegele - Greg McKegg - Saku Maenalanen
Jaccob Slavin / Dougie Hamilton
Brett Pesce / Justin Faulk
Calvin de Haan / Trevor van Riemsdyk
Injured Reserve: Jordan Staal
—And now with these lines you can clearly see just why the loss of Staal stings so much down the middle. Aho has blossomed into an all-star and one of the league’s best centermen, but behind him...not a lot. Pens fans know from experience when McKegg’s in the NHL picture, the picture ain’t great.
—Many suspect Carolina won’t/can’t meet Ferland’s financial ask for another contract aand will be traded soon. If so, Svechnikov seems like the successor, if not immediate than one day.
And now for the Pens
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Bryan Rust - Nick Bjugstad - Phil Kessel
Tanner Pearson -Jared McCann - Patric Hornqvist
Teddy Blueger - Matt Cullen - Garrett Wilson
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Juuso Riikola
Marcus Pettersson / Jack Johnson
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), Evgeni Malkin (upper body, day-to-day)
Injured: Zach Aston-Reese (broken hand, IR), Justin Schultz (broken leg, LTIR)
Key to the Game
Shot suppression vs. shot quality
From above, Carolina only allows 27.9 shots per game, best in the NHL. But they’ve giving up goals at a very high rate, and the Pens’ shooter score at a very great percentage. So who wins the battle of the Hurricanes trying to limit Pittsburgh’s opportunities versus the Pens cashing in when they do get those opportunities? The winner of that battle probably emerges victorious.