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Game Preview: Chicago Blackhawks @ Pittsburgh Penguins, 10/16/2021...Lines, news and how to watch

The Penguins’ first home game of the season

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Nashville Predators, 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Finals Set Number: SI880 TK1

Who: Chicago Blackhawks (0-1-1, 1 point) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (1-0-1, 3 points)

When: 7:00 p.m. eastern

How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, NBC Sports Chicago is the away team broadcast, NHL Network for America in non-Pittsburgh or Chicago markets.

Opponent Track: Chicago opened their season on the road on Wednesday, against the mighty Colorado Avalanche and the Blackhawks lost 4-2. Last night, Chicago got their second game in against New Jersey where the Blackhawks rallied scored two 5v6 goals late to get into OT but NJ won with a Jack Hughes goal. This is the final game of a season opening three game road trip for Chicago.

Pens path ahead: It’s time for a long home-stand, the Pens don’t play on the road again until Wednesday November 8th. And there’s quite a bit of time off too, the game after this is on Tuesday against Dallas. Then the Pens get three days off before hosting Toronto next Saturday (10/23). Following that is two more days off until Tampa comes to town on Tuesday 10/26. Overall, after tonight, the Pens only play three games in the next 11 days, and only have five games after tonight remaining in the month of October’s final 15 days. One game every three days, certainly a welcome change from the compressed schedule of last season.

Season Series: See that November 8th road game mentioned so specifically in the above paragraph? That will be the Pens going to Chicago to play the ‘Hawks, which will round out the PIT/CHI season series very early on this year.

Random fact: The last time teams from the Eastern Conference and Western Conferenced played each other (2019-20), it was a huge boon for the Penguins. Pittsburgh went 20-7-2 against Western clubs that season.

Random fact II: Pittsburgh is 28-15-10 all-time in home openers, including a 5-2-1 mark in the last eight years.

SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Second City Hockey for the latest news to know about the Blackhawks.

Possible Lines

FORWARDS

Dominik Kubalik — Jonathan Toews — Philipp Kurashev

Alex Debrincat — Tyler Johnson — Patrick Kane

Henrik Borgstrom — Kirby Dach — Brandon Hagel

Jujhar Khaira — Adam Gaudette — Mackenzie Entwistle

DEFENSEMEN

Calvin de Haan / Seth Jones

Jake McCabe / Connor Murphy

Riley Stillman / Erik Gustafsson

Starting Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratches: Ian Mitchell, Dylan Strome

IR: Caleb Jones (ankle), Andrew Shaw (LTIR - unofficially retired)

—It was pretty cool of the Hawks to play backup Kevin Lankinen last night in New Jersey, paving the way for Marc-Andre Fleury to make his third career appearance as a visitor in Pittsburgh.

—Those two starts @PIT? The Pens lit Fleury up for a 5-4 Pittsburgh win his first time back playing against his old team on Feb 6, 2018. But Fleury got revenge by pitching a 29-save shutout in a 3-0 Vegas win in his second return appearance back on Oct 19, 2019.

—In 2018-19, Dylan Strome got a trade out of Arizona and looked like he found a home in Chicago where he scored 51 points in 58 games. Since then, it’s been downhill and he’s played his way down to healthy scratch territory now. At age 24 it will be compelling to see what comes next for the former third overall pick.

Low key player spotlight

Phillipp Kurashev is a player that I’ve barely heard of, and as seen above he’s certainly in a very opportunistic position based on the above if he is still to be on the Chicago first line. The Swiss born and QMJHL trained player celebrated his 22nd birthday earlier this week. Kurashev was a fourth round pick in 2014. Kurashev appeared in 55/56 games for the Blackhawks last season, his first in the NHL where he scored eight goals and added eight more assists.

Here’s part of the write up from Second City Hockey, where Kurashev was ranked the No. 4 best player in the Chicago organization under the age of 25 by that website earlier this fall.

On a team including Patrick Kane and Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev was one of the best skaters, and one of his best plays of the season involved him splitting the defense at the blue line and streaking into the crease for a goal.

That’s a rare play for those who aren’t among the NHL’s best skaters and Kurashev may be.

Kurashev was at his best with talented teammates. Kurashev spent 213:16 with Dominik Kubalik and the duo racked up a 66.67 percent goal share (eight for, four against) in that time. It’ll be interesting to see Kurashev potentially play with Toews, or to see if Kubalik’s goal scoring ways can rebound in 2021-22. If they can, Kurashev’s playmaking ability may also flourish in his sophomore effort.

To really bring it all together, however, Kurashev just needs to show more consistency moving forward. In his first NHL season, Kurashev showed that he has all the tools at his disposal, it’s just about using them properly and learning to use them continuously.

So it might be worth keeping an eye out for #23 in white tonight. Getting to play on a NHL top line is a very monumental opportunity to showcase a player’s ability that might come around once in a career, if ever. And it will be a fleeting chance too, if Kurashev isn’t able to generate points, surely they will shuffle him down the lineup and give someone else the chance to jump in that spot.

And now for the Pens..

Saturday morning skate Lines

Forwards

Jake Guentzel - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen

Jason Zucker - Evan Rodrigues - Kasperi Kapanen

Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn

Drew O’Connor- Brian Boyle - Dominik Simon

Defense

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson / John Marino

Mark Friedman / Chad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

Scratches: Drew O’Connor (healthy), Pierre-Olivier Joseph (healthy), Sidney Crosby (wrist), Zach Aston-Reese (COVID), Mike Matheson (day-to-day injury)

IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee)

—*Bryan Rust’s status remained unaddressed with the team having a day off yesterday. Rust left the game on Thursday night after getting knocked down with a big time open ice hit.

—Will we see Sidney Crosby back in the lineup tonight? It’s possible the captain could return, though not confirmed or ruled out as of press time. Even if not tonight, it looks exceedingly close for Crosby to return for the following game on Tuesday or the one after that at worst.

—UPDATE: This morning Crosby and Rust were not skating with the main group, but Zach-Aston Reese was. O’Connor also replaced Sam Lafferty on the fourth line from last game. Mike Matheson skated, but took rushes with P.O Joseph as the Friedman-Ruhwedel pair remained in tact.

Heinen’s history hunt

By scoring a goal in each of the first two games with the Pens, Danton Heinen joins a fun list. From the team’s PR department:

Off-season acquisition Danton Heinen enters tonight’s game tied with Evan Rodrigues (2) for the team lead in goals after scoring in each of the first two games. Per NHL PR, Heinen is the seventh Penguins player in 20 years to score in each of his first two games with the franchise:

Players Games/Year

Evgeni Malkin 6 GP in 2006-07
Eric Fehr 2 GP in 2015-15
Patric Hornqvist 2 GP in 2014-15
Chuck Kobasew 2 GP in 2013-14
Matt Hussey 2 GP in 2003-04
Guillaume Lefebvre 2 GP in 2002-03

If he scores tonight, it will mark the first three-game goal streak of his career. Heinen has four points (2G-2A) in six career games against Chicago, including a career-high-tying three-point effort (1G-2A) on Feb. 12, 2019 as a member of the Boston Bruins.

I was convinced Guillaume Lefebvre would be a building block for the Pens as a hard-working energy player. Probably mostly because it is very fun to say “Guillaume Lefebvre”. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Carter joins a notable club

Speaking of being on a list of players, Jeff Carter put his name on a list of more accomplished players who have recorded career goal No. 400 in a Pens jersey.

That’s a list of four Hall of Famers (Lemieux, Mullen, Francis, Robitaille) and three more surefire HoF’ers when eligible (Jagr, Crosby, Malkin) and two more short-term Pens’ players in Robitaille and LeClair. Carter’s closest to those last two names than any others, especially for spending a brief amount of his career in Pittsburgh like they did, but what a list to be a part of!

It’s also one of life’s little ironies that Flyer franchise important players like LeClair and Carter have gotten to this relatively obscure achievement while playing for Pittsburgh.

Milestone watch

Some various accomplishments to track that could be had tonight:

  • Mike Sullivan is one win away from passing Dan Bylsma with a 253rd win as a Penguin coach
  • Brian Dumoulin is four points away from 100 career points (gotta stay hopeful, no?)