Who: Calgary Flames (4-1-1, 9 points) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1-2, 8 points)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Calgary comes into town on a heater, winning their last four games — all of which have been on the road (3-0 over Detroit, 4-3 [OT] over Washington, 5-1 over NYR and 5-3 against NJD on Tuesday night). This is the last game of the Flames’ current Eastern road trip.
Pens path ahead: New Jersey makes their way to Pittsburgh on Saturday as the Pens’ long, long string of home games continues. After that the Pens then get a nice five days off next week from Oct 31 - Thursday Nov 4th, when the Flyers come to town.
Season Series: It will be over fairly quickly, the Pens take their trip up to Alberta on Monday November 29 and that will be in for the season with PIT/CGY games.
Random fact: Pittsburgh is 13-3-3 in its last 19 games versus Calgary overall dating back to Dec. 6, 2007.
SBN Team Counterpart: Pull up on Matchsticks and Gasoline for the latest news to know about the Flames.
—Don’t adjust your screen, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane BOTH have seven goals in the first six games of the season. They don’t even play on the same line! (Which, I mean, they probably couldn’t with all that scoring).
—There’s some contract year magic so far for Johnny Hockey, with eight helpers in six games to start this season.
—Goalie Jacob Markstrom is off to a really good start this year, his second with Calgary. He’s only allowed eight goals in four games and has a shutout under his belt to go along with a 1.99 GAA and .934 save%.
—It’s tough to be too critical on the Flames, with their strong play as of late. But Matthew Tkachuk only has 1G+0A in the last three games, so maybe him?
—As is the case with most, the bottom bunch of forwards on the lineup aren’t doing a lot. Backup goalie Dan Vladar has as much or more offensive production (1 assist) so far this season than Sean Monahan, Brett Ritchie, Trevor Lewis and Tyler Pitlick.
Johnny Gaudreau - Elias Lindholm - Matthew Tkachuk
Blake Coleman - Mikael Backlund - Tyler Pitlick
Andrew Mangiapane - Dillon Dube - Brett Ritchie
Milan Lucic - Sean Monahan - Trevor Lewis
Oliver Kylington / Christoper Tanev
Noah Hanifin / Rasmus Andersson
Juuso Valimaki / Erik Gudbranson
Probable Starting Goalie: Jacob Markstrom
Scratches: Brad Richardson, Nikita Zadorov, Michael Stone
—Also, kinda low-key but the Hanifin-Andersson pair have been on ice for 7 GF to just 1 GA at 5-on-5 action so far this season.
—Old friend Erik Gudbranson just keeps finding places to play in the NHL despite middling results and a really bad season split between Ottawa and Nashville last year (he’s real big and mean though!) Gudbranson actually got a one year deal worth $1.95 million, a surprisingly high salary considering he was signed a strange six weeks into free agency, which...good for him! So far he’s started well with three assists and good possession numbers in a limited role.
Low-key player profile
One of the league’s leading goal scorers is a good place to start. Mangiapane is shooting 36.8% this year, and clearly that’s going to normalize at some point, but he’s still be a very good under-the-radar player that has helped drive good results offensively and defensively for the past few seasons.
From Calgary’s perspective, draft day for Mangiapane in 2015 sounded a lot like the sales job that then-Pens Minnesota-area scout Scott Bell had to pull to get the Pens to draft a smallish kid named Guentzel in 2013. Anyways, from The Athletic recently on Mangiapane:
Flames general manager Brad Treliving knew the risk.
If he used Calgary’s sixth-round pick (No. 166 overall) in 2015 on someone other than Andrew Mangiapane, a favourite of scout Terry Doran, well…
“I would have got punched,” Treliving said with a laugh on a call with The Athletic.
Doran, an Ontario-based amateur scout, was bullish on what Mangiapane could bring to the Flames. The Barrie Colts forward, while short and slight in stature, had a high ceiling, he said, with an attractive physical and mental toolkit.
“(Our scouts) dug in,” Treliving said. “They knew all of the DNA of this kid about how hard he pushes himself, and just the talent. He’s got high-end talent and he’s got a big-time engine that’s going to drive him. The only thing he didn’t do is that the tape measure didn’t stretch out.”
Calgary wasn’t the only team high on the player. Mangiapane had attended the Coyotes’ rookie camp the year before, and the team was believed to be prepared to select him with their seventh-round pick.
The Flames had already taken a risk by passing on Mangiapane in the fifth round and selecting Pavel Karnaukhov, while hoping Mangiapane would still be available 30 picks later. They weren’t going to take that risk again.
Treliving made the pick. Doran got his guy. Nobody got punched.
“We got ourselves a hell of a player,” Treliving said. “That was a hell of a job by the scouts.”
For every Mangiapane or Guentzel, there’s probably a dozen mid-round picks that scouts love that don’t end up panning out, but it’s got to be a special point of pride when you can see something like this from the Flames last game years before anyone else does.
And now for the Pens..
Jake Guentzel - Evan Rodrigues -Danton Heinen
Jason Zucker - Drew O’Connor - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Dominik Simon - Brian Boyle - Sam Lafferty
Brian Dumoulin / John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Mark Friedman
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalie: Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Kasper Bjorkqvist (healthy), protocol), Juuso Riikola (healthy)
Update: Sidney Crosby was ruled out for this game after the morning skate
COVID non-roster list: Jeff Carter, Kris Letang
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee), Bryan Rust (week-to-week injury)
—Could this be the return of Sid? It’s not official that Crosby will play, but he was “real close” as of yesterday and the Pens changed three lines in practice to accommodate a Crosby return.
Typically Mike Sullivan is very faithful to using one day’s practice lines as the next day’s game lines, if at all possible so....We’ll see. Perhaps mid-afternoon when Sullivan addresses the media he will announce a yes/no on Crosby’s availability for tonight.
One very big weak spot for the Pens last season was their 27th ranked penalty kill. While, of course, we’re still early in the season, Pittsburgh has gotten off to a great start with their PK group so far this season. From the team’s PR department:
Special teams have been a bright spot early on in Pittsburgh’s season. Through six games, the Penguins have allowed just one opposing power-play goal, and the teams 93.3% penalty kill success rate is second best in the NHL:
St. Louis 93.8%
John Marino leads the way for the Penguins on the penalty kill averaging 2:34 minutes of shorthanded time-on-ice per game, which is on pace to be the highest of his career. Teddy Blueger leads all Pittsburgh forwards averaging 2:02 minutes of shorthanded time-on-ice per game.
Marino’s growth as a player into a PK ace is a great development, and much needed for a team that needs it from a RHD, having lost Cody Ceci to FA and has Kris Letang currently on the shelf.
As the old adage goes, “a team’s best PKer needs to be their goalie” has some truth to it. This season so far, Tristan Jarry has a .933 save% in 4v5 situations — among the league leaders to date. Casey DeSmith has a much smaller sample but has stopped 4/4 shots while the Pens’ have been on the PK. Last season Jarry and DeSmith both had matching .841 save%’s (funny, huh) while in 4v5, which ranked among the worst goalies in the league at 4v5.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Pens had one of the worst PK’s last season, but now have one of the best early in this season. PK Goalie play certainly is one area so far where you can see improvement from last year, which deserves a shout out.