When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh viewing area, NBCSN nationally if not in Western PA
Opponent Track: This is only the third game in the last nine days for the Wild, who have only played four games to date in calendar 2020. Minnesota has been slumping of late, just 0-2-1 in their last three, 0-2-0 in the last two, including scoring a total of two goals in the last two games (a 2-1 loss @Calgary on Thursday then a 4-1 loss home against Vancouver the last game out).
Pens path ahead: A road back-to-back set is immediately on the horizon, in Boston and Detroit on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Then the Pens get back home quickly for a Sunday afternoon game against those Bruins.
Season Series: The Pens already made their trip to Minny this season, way back in mid-October when Pittsburgh won a high-flying 7-4 contest. That game was the coming out party for Sam Lafferty who recorded 1G+2A (his first goal and point in the NHL in his third game). A host of other Pens also recorded 1G+1A in the game (Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, Adam Johnson).
Recent History: Pittsburgh has done really well with the Wild, going 8-3-0 in the last 11 matchups and 10-4-0 in the last 14.
SBN Team Counterpart: Our friends over at Hockey Wilderness will take you through the wilderness that is another tough building year out in the “State of hockey”.
Tale of the tape
—Aside from shooting percentage (which...weird), Minnesota ranks bottom-half of the league, if not bottom-third in just about every category we track. Woof. (Ok, so semantically they do have shots allowed/game, but they’re in a five way tie there and dangerous close to falling to 18th place with a bad game tonight).
—Since the Christmas break, the Pens have been clicking. There’s a 7-1-1 record. The power play has come to life at 26.1% in the last nine games. Patric Hornqvist has been back for the last eight games. Coincidence? I think not.
Player Stats at a Glance
—The NHL is generally seen as a young man’s game, but not in Minnesota this year. As of next week their top three scorers (Eric Staal, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise) will all be 35-years old. That’s very unusual in this day and age and indicative of the Wild’s true issue: developing young stars.
—Carson Soucy though could be part of the solution. He’s only at about 15 minutes per game on the season, but has been ramping up a bit. Soucy has an 18:16 average since December 1 where he’s also scored eight points in the last 19 games (4G+4A). At 6’5 and 25-years old the former 5th round pick in 2013 has taken a bit to make it to the big time (he only had three NHL games prior to this season) but it looks like he’s been worth the wait.
Possible Lines (based on last game)
Jason Zucker - Eric Staal - Mats Zuccarello
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Kevin Fiala
Marcus Foligno - Joel Eriksson Ek - Luke Kunin
Jordan Greenway - Ryan Hartman - Ryan Donato
Jared Spurgeon / Ryan Suter
Matt Dumba / Jonas Brodin
Greg Pateryn / Carson Soucy
Expected Scratches: Victor Rask (healthy), Brad Hunt, Nick Seeler (AHL conditioning stint)
Injured Reserve: none
—Zucker recently returned from a knee injury to give them a full compliment of healthy players.
He said it
Old friend Bruce Boudreau is nothing if not colorful and his explanation about why $4.0 million man Victor Rask is a healthy scratch once again is pretty good.
Boudreau on scratching Rask w 13 healthy fwds: "He’s been doing OK. But we could throw a blanket over the guys that are doing OK. We need people to excel, and we’re pretty bland in that situation."— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) January 13, 2020
A bunch of “just OK” guys who are “pretty bland”. Not sure there’s a better description of Wild hockey 2020, and it came from their own coach.
And now for the Pens..
Potential Lines (based on Sunday game)
Dominik Kahun - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon- Jared McCann -Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Alex Galchenyuk - Andrew Agozzino - Sam Lafferty
Sidney Crosby ? (core muscle surgery)
Jack Johnson/ Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Juuso Riikola / Chad Ruhwedel
Expected scratches: Kevin Czuczman (healthy), Joseph Blandisi (healthy)
Injured Reserve: Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery), Jake Guentzel (shoulder), Justin Schultz (lower body injury)
—All eyes will be on Crosby and a return could be in the cards. The Pens were off Monday after returning home from their western road swing so there’s no indication yet of what happens so we’ll see.
Wizards of the West
The Penguins have been great against Western conference competition. Per Pens PR:
The Penguins have fared well against Western Conference teams, winning 19 of their 25 games and gaining 40 points. Their 19 wins against the West are tied for second among NHL teams (St. Louis, 20) and first among Eastern Conference teams.
Perhaps unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re glad the season is moving along) this will be the last regular season game where a Western team visits. Pittsburgh only has four more Western road games in the whole season left after tonight (an @LA, @ANA, @SJ swing in late February, then a trip to Chicago in March).