Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (39-24-10; 88 points, 3rd place in Metropolitan division) @ Carolina Hurricanes (39-25-7; 85 points, 4th place in Metropolitan division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Carolinas, TVAS
Opponent Track: Carolina is winners of three of their last four games, the only loss coming on Friday night in a super-important game @Columbus. Carolina did well (shots were 46-20 in their favor) but they couldn’t crack Bob and ended up dropping a 3-0 game. The Canes bounced back from that by beating hapless Buffalo their last game out by a score of 4-2.
Pens Refresh: A season of ups and downs has turned down after a challenging 0-1-1 weekend where they laid an egg in a day game against St. Louis (and lost Evgeni Malkin to injury) and blew a late lead to Philly and lost in OT on Sunday.
Season Series: The Pens won 3-0 in Carolina on December 22nd, but the Canes struck back with a 4-0 win on February 5th. After tonight in NC, the teams will clash one more time on March 31st in a couple Sunday’s in Pittsburgh in the final game of the season series.
SBN Team Counterpart: Canes Country
Tale of the Tape
—Long known as “the internet’s team”, Carolina amused and confounded by having such a great process in terms of shot share and possession-based metrics, yet would not perform well at actually winning games, due mainly to atrocious goaltending and low shooting percentage...The script has finally been flipped for the Canes, with all the shot volume plus shot suppression in the league, now with finally some average goaltending. As a result, they’re firmly in the playoff race despite not being that much of an offensive juggernaut in scoring or on the power play.
—Meanwhile, Casey DeSmith and Matt Murray are both in the top-10 of ES save percentagerising the Pens up to the highest they’ve been all season in 5v5 save%. The goalies are really holding Pittsburgh in games as they remain bottom tier in suppressing shots against. The Pens continue to put a lot of strain on the goalie position as they allow a lot of pucks to fly in and around their net.
—The Pens shooting as of late has been slumping, which if you saw them score two goals in the last two games, you probably could have guessed. Hopefully that constantly fluctuating number is about to rise a bit and get back more towards typical season levels on 9+ per cent.
Player Stats at a Glance
-Carolina’s had some good injury luck so far this season, by and large. Nine of their players have “perfect attendance” through the first 71 games of the season, and 13 have played 67+ games. (The Pens only have three players [Johnson, Guentzel, Kessel] to play all the games this season. And only five players with 67+ games in their first 73.)
Nino Neiddereiter - Sebastien Aho - Justin Williams
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Staal - Teuvo Teravainen
Micheal Ferland - Lukas Wallmark - Jordan Martinook
Warren Foegele - Gregg McKegg - Brock McGinn
Jaccob Slavin / Dougie Hamilton
Brett Pesce / Justin Faulk
Calvin de Haan / Trevor van Riemsdyk
—Odd to see McKegg playing a regular shift on a playoff contending type of team, but here we are.
Petr Mrazek - for so long, goaltending was the elusive missing piece for Carolina. They could never solve it. Well don’t look now, but over the last six or seven weeks, Mrazek has solved it. He’s 8-3-0 with a .934 save% and a 1.93 GAA. If he can carry that level of play, Carolina can beat anyone in the entire league in a playoff series. (Given his career, possibly a big “if”)
Neiddereiter - 22 points in 25 games as a Cane, the January trade to bring him over was just what the doctor ordered for the player and the team.
Aho - Eight points (5g+3a) in the last eight games, arguably the quietest budding star in the league but Aho has been great.
Pesce - For a player who only had 16 points in the first 54 games of the season, Pesce has come alive offensively lately with eight points (1g+7a) in his last eight games.
Ferland - only two points in the last 10 games (1g+1a), and his icetime is down to just 11 minutes and change over the past couple of weeks. After being in the trade market, Carolina decided to keep UFA-to-be Ferland as “their own rental player” and not deal him away since they were in the thick of the playoffs. However, unless he kicks it up, they might as well really have dealt him.
Teravainen - The skilled Finn has no goals in the last seven games. (He does have five assists in that stretch, to be fair).
Curtis McElhinney - the waiver wire pickup and veteran netminder has exceeded expectations but only has 3.98 GAA and .874 save % in his last four games.
And now for the Penguins...
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Jared McCann - Sidney Crosby - Jake Guentzel
Bryan Rust - Teddy Blueger - - Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Joseph Blandisi - Matt Cullen- Garrett Wilson
Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson
Brian Dumoulin / Zach Trotman
Expected scratches: Juuso Riikola (healthy), Kris Letang (upper body injury), Chad Ruhwedel (upper), Zach Aston-Reese (hip), Evgeni Malkin (rib)
Injured Reserve: Olli Maatta (upper body)
—Monday was a travel day for the Pens, so our line bets are off from last game.
—Per coach Mike Sullivan, Letang has joined the team for this four game road trip. Will his return be today? Who knows!
Aaand down the stretch they come!
Here’s a fun look at the remaining games, makes it easier to compare teams in close competition with each other. Hey, like Carolina and Pittsburgh!
Remaining schedule, March 18 pic.twitter.com/vGbpViKOmu— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 18, 2019
Who has the edge? Nothing too clear, Carolina has a pair of games in hand, but they still have to play first-place teams in Tampa and Washington a total of three times. And while the initial reaction might be “so, maybe Tampa will take their foot off the gas with nothing to play for”, that’s really not the case. Tampa has won 16 of their last 18 games and won’t be looking to lose momentum this close to the playoffs. Tampa really hasn’t had anything to play for or prove since the all-star break. Maybe Christmas. But they haven’t coasted yet and surely won’t be just a couple weeks out from go time. Those will be very tough contests for the ‘Canes.
What stands out a lot is just how weak the Pens’ last three games should be. Two with Detroit and finishing up with NYR. Three games that really just haaaave to be wins for Pittsburgh against teams literally playing out the string.
Then again, Carolina’s last two games though are NJ and PHI, so they shouldn’t have that difficult a finish, either. If it comes to that.
The Pens playing so many games to this point might have a hidden edge too. Check that last game against Carolina. It’s blue for Pittsburgh, red for Carolina because CAR has a game the day before and has to travel to Pittsburgh that night, while the Pens are just sitting around waiting. Will that be a help? Guess we’ll find out. Certainly seems advantageous.