Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (0-0-0, 0 points) @ Tampa Bay Lightning (0-0-0, 0 points)
When: 7:30 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: ESPN exclusive game! Which, weirdly enough, is the only game on the “regular” ESPN main channel for the Pens this season. “How to Watch” will be important this season with games bouncing around many different channels and platforms, the earlier link will be invaluable to keep track of where to tune in.
Opponent Track: It’s the first game of the season, so there is no recent games for Tampa. Out of curiosity, here is how “banner celebration night” has gone for recent teams who have won the Cup on their first game of the following season. This could be a good sign for Tampa tonight, recent champs are 3-0-2 in the next season opener:
- 10/13/2016: Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2 (shootout)
- 10/4/2017: St. Louis 5, Pittsburgh 4 (overtime)
- 10/3/2018: Washington 7, Boston 0
- 10/2/2019: Washington 3. St Louis 2 (OT)
- 1/13/2021: Tampa 5, Chicago 1
Pens path ahead: Pittsburgh stays down south to meet what could be an exciting Florida Panthers team on Thursday night, in what will be Florida’s first game of the season. Then, the Pens go home and stay for a while - it’s an eight game homestand that starts on Saturday against Chicago and runs through November 6th.
Season Series: Two weeks from today, October 26th, the Lightning will make a trip to Pittsburgh for another early season matchup and Tampa’s one and only trip to Pittsburgh this season. TB/PIT then play a third game all the way on March 3rd to complete what will be just a three-game season series between the non-division conference rivals.
Random fact: The Pens are 22-22-9 all-time in the first road game of their seasons, and 24-22-7 all-time in season openers.
Random fact II: This will be the first Pens game @TB in 614 days (February 6th, 2020, a 4-2 Tampa win).
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Raw Charge for the latest news to know about the Lightning.
Offseason changes come to Tampa
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, with mostly the same roster, the salary cap finally does what it always does and took a chunk out of Tampa. All three members of their upstart and important energy line in Blake Coleman (free agent, Calgary), Yanni Gourde (expansion, Seattle) and Barclay Goodrow (free agent, NYR) have departed. Tyler Johnson, a key player in the last playoff run despite a fall-off in overall production and importance in the lineup, was off-loaded in a trade to Chicago for nothing but cap space. Trade deadline pickup David Savard also skated away in free agency (though he only played nine minutes in the Cup clinching Game 6 and might not be that big of a loss).
Tampa was able to squeeze in veteran forwards Corey Perry (who they have defeated in two straight SC Finals in Dallas and Montreal, respectively) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Those changes aside, the core group of what powered Tampa to two Cups in just 282 days remains intact. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the world right now. Their top five defensemen from last year are all back, with Victor Hedman being arguably the finest all-around defender in the game right now. Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak are no slouches themselves to create probably the best top-four defense core in the NHL today.
Up front, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are healthy and will be joined again by familiar key players in Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn. Youngsters Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph (brother of Pens’ prospect P.O) will be looking to take steps to internally backfill some of the roster churn.
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Mathieu Joseph - Ross Colton - Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Taylor Raddish
Victor Hedman / Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh / Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev / Zach Bogosian
Probable starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Scratches: Boris Katchouk, Cal Foote
IR: Gemel Smith, Brent Seabrook (LTIR - unofficially retired)
—The defense splits and staggering of ice time is always an interesting twist. Hedman is capable of playing 25+ minutes, and McDonagh, Sergachev and Cernak shouldn’t be too far behind. The others just have to piecemeal in to fill out the remaining minutes.
And now for the Pens..
Yesterday’s practice Lines
Danton Heinen - Jeff Carter - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evan Rodrigues - Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn - Teddy Blueger - Dominik Simon
Drew O’Connor - Brian Boyle - Sam Lafferty
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mark Friedman / John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel
Probable starting goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sidney Crosby (wrist), Jake Guentzel (COVID), Zach Aston-Reese (COVID), Mike Matheson (day-to-day injury)
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee)
—On paper, this will be much of an uphill climb for the Penguins, especially down the middle of the ice. There will be a lot of pressure on the best available wingers in Rust, Kapanen and Zucker to create offense early in the season, along with center Jeff Carter. Luckily, the cavalry is on the way soon in the form of Guentzel and Crosby who both should be back in the lineup in the coming games.
—For the Day 1 roster submitted to the NHL yesterday, neither O’Connor nor Boyle were on the 23 player list. Expect this to change in a hurry as the team announces the Boyle signing today and will need to recall another player from the AHL to get 12 healthy forwards. Pittsburgh is only $122k under the salary cap, so they will also need to make the transaction to place Evgeni Malkin on the long-term injury reserve and be able to replace him and his salary for the period of time he is out.
Pens without 87 and 71
While both star centers have missed more than their share of games over the years, the Penguins have rarely had to play without BOTH Crosby and Malkin. A note from the Pens’ PR staff:
Since the beginning of the 2006-07 season, Pittsburgh has played just 52 games without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. In those 52 games, the Penguins have gone 31-15-6 (.654 points percentage).
The last time the Penguins played without both Crosby and Malkin was on Dec. 14, 2019 – a 5-4 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings at PPG Paints Arena. Bryan Rust (2G-1A), Jake Guentzel (3A) and Kris Letang all finished with three points.
You would think the ticket to getting results this week will be in-line with what we saw in that 2019 LA game. Pittsburgh is going to need names like Bryan Rust and Kris Letang and Carter or Zucker and Kapanen to chip in a few points if the team is going to win. Production in meaningful amounts is probably not going to reliably come from the bottom of the lineup, it’s going to have to be the veteran type of players who have a history of producing points in the league.
Some various accomplishments to track that could be had tonight:
- Jeff Carter is sitting at 399 career goals
- Mike Sullivan is one win away from tying Dan Bylsma with 252 wins as a Penguin coach, the most in franchise history
After a long off-season, hockey is back! With a new broadcast partner and a new presentation, but still the same goal as the Penguins renew the long journey to compete for another playoff berth and shot at the Cup.