When: 8:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, Fox Sports Southwest, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Stars are just 3-3-1 in the last two weeks, and losers their last time out, getting beat 3-1 by Colorado at home on Thursday night.
Pens Refresh: A win in Nashville on Thursday pushes the Pens to 1-0-1 on the first half of their last extended road trip of the season. Overall though, Pittsburgh has scored just five goals in the last four games as their shooting percentage has dried up as of late.
Season Series: Dallas made their annual trip to Pittsburgh this season way back on November 21st, a 5-1 Pens win. Guentzel, Malkin, Crosby, Hornqvist and Pearson scored goals in that game and Casey DeSmith stopped 18 of 19 Dallas shots to pick up the win. This is the last game of the season series between PIT and DAL.
SBN Team Counterpart: Defending Big D
Player Stats at a Glance
—Oleksiak has no points and has only averaged 12:31 in his return to Dallas in a December trade with Pittsburgh. Really puzzling decision for them to acquire him (and 2.5 seasons left at a $2.1 million cap hit) considering they knew his game and limitations more than anyone. Oleksiak didn’t play last game which I believe was a healthy scratch.
—A big core of this team is the trio of Scandinavian defensemen in Klingberg (SWE), Heiskanen (FIN) and Lindell (FIN). All three are young, can skate and move the puck. A solid base to work from, for sure.
—Team defense (182 Goals Against rank 2nd in the league) and goaltending have been a major plus for Dallas this season. The 32-year old Ben Bishop has been among the NHL’s best goalies this year with 6 shutouts and a sterling .932 save% in his second year with Dallas. Backup Anton Khudobin has gotten a heavy load with 35 games and not had much let up with a .925 save%.
—Offense has been a much different story. The 186 Goals For rank 29th in the league (with only the two dreadful Cali teams in ANA an LA being worse). It’s Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov, Jamie Benn and....not a whole lot great among the forward group. They’ve tried to add mid-season trades with Andrew Cogliano (a dud with just 1 goal and 2 assists in 25 games) and poor Mats Zuccarello suffered a broken arm blocking a shot in his very first game with the Stars and naturally has been out since.
They said it
Defending Big D on some recent lineup choices - including the healthy scratch of Valeri Nichushkin last game:
But honestly, as we’ve said before, you don’t win games by picking this or that 12th forward, most nights, any more than the Stars are sabotaging themselves by playing Taylor Fedun over Julius Honka. The biggest contributions will and should come from the top of the lineup, so it’s important to keep things in context and all that.
Brett Ritchie in his last 18 games: Zero points, -6, 13 PIM,
Val Nichushkin in his last 18 games: One point, -2, 0 PIM.
Dallas scored one or zero goals for the 25th time this season. They have lost 36 games overall. I’m no scientist, but that seems a pretty strong correlation between scoring not-lots and losing. And that’s a bigger conversation than Nichushkin, Ritchie, or even Jason Spezza (2-3=5 in his last 18 games, by the way).
“Re-Recruiting” Nichushkin back from the KHL was supposed to provide a boost of speed and skill for Dallas but the results have been totally poor.
Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Jason Dickinson - Joel L’Esperance
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Spezza - Brett Richie
Esa Lindell / John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen / Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun / Ben Lovejoy
Projected Scratches: Valeri Nichushkin, Julius Honka, Jamie Oleksiak
Injuries: Stephen Johns, Martin Hanzal, Marc Methot, Mats Zuccarello, Tyler Pitlick
—Perhaps out of desperation, they’re working Hintz, Dickinson and L’Esperance in with their proven top players, so we’ll see if that can kick up some kind of production. Tough look for a playoff team, the best laid plan of adding Zuccarello just fizzled with his unfortunate injury, they certainly would be a lot more formidable with him.
—Old friend Lovejoy was a trade deadline depth pickup as well. Probably still not a bad 3RD option, though we all know certainly his limitatons.
Their good players - Seguin has 11 points in the last 10 games (1g+10a). Benn has 10 in 10 (6g+4a). Radulov has 13 points in his last 12 games (8g+5a). Klingberg has 9 points in the last 10 (3g+6a).
Why Seguin and Benn got criticism from the Team President back in December continues to defy reason. Our bud Adam Gretz called it “completely idiotic” and he was totally right. They’ve played very well. The problem is more a management problem that their support players (namely free agent additions in Nichushkin, Comeau, Spezza, trades like Cogliano etc) aren’t pulling their weight. That’s not the Stars’ stars problem, that’s the front office’s problem. Point one finger and three more are pointing back at you.
Bishop - Since returning from injury on Feb 23, Bishop is 6-3-0 with a 1.07 GAA and .965 save percentage to go with 3 shutouts. He hasn’t given up more than 2 goals in any game and is 6-1 in his last seven. That’s almost unreal!
Who’s not hot
Pretty much everyone else - In the month of March (10 total team games) 12 different players have dressed at least 7+ games and have two points or less a piece. Some of them (Dickinson, L’Esperance, Faska, Janmark) are penciled in for top-9 roles above. There’s just too many passengers and not enough drivers right now in Dallas.
Even then, Dallas is in the WildCard #1 spot in the West and pretty solid ground to make the playoffs. But it’s tough to imagine them going anywhere since it’s looking like they’ll draw Winnipeg in round 1.
And now for the Penguins...
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Jake Guentzel- Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Teddy Blueger - Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Adam Johnson - Matt Cullen- Garrett Wilson
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson
Expected scratches: Zach Trotman (healthy), Chad Ruhwedel (upper), Zach Aston-Reese (hip), Evgeni Malkin (rib)
Injured Reserve: Olli Maatta (upper body)
—Pretty steady as she goes for Pittsburgh. They’re still right in the midst of a hellish schedule of a lot of games in a little time, but that’s about to break up a bit next week once they get off the road.
But they still have to get through tonight and Monday night back in NYR before a sweet, sweet three day break.