Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-4, 14 points, 7th place Metropolitan division) @ Ottawa Senators (3-9-1, 7 points, 8th place Atlantic division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, SN1 in Canada, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Not much was expected out of Ottawa this season, but it’s been even worse than imagined. The Sens have gone 0-for-November so far (0-5-1 on the month) and have slid into COVID hell with more and more players added to the protocol. A bare bones Sens lineup got shutout 2-0 on Thursday night to LA, the team straight up canceled all activities yesterday to give everyone a day for themselves.
Pens path ahead: The Pens get their first back-to-back of the season playing Washington tomorrow night. After the business with the Caps is done, it’s back to Pittsburgh’s tour of the Atlantic division with games next week against Buffalo on Tuesday, then @Montreal on Thursday and @Toronto next Saturday night (11/20).
Season Series: The Pens go back to Ottawa for a New Year’s Eve game at 1 PM on 12/31 (yuck, rotten luck there, will they be stuck in Ottawa for NYE? Fly back to Pittsburgh and get back around 10ish? Can’t imagine anyone is happy about that). The Sens make their lone trip to Pittsburgh this season on January 20th to conclude the three-game PIT/OTT season series.
Random fact: If my tracking is right, this is the first Pens game @OTT since 12/8/2018, and Pittsburgh’s roster included such luminaries as Garrett Wilson, J.S Dea, Tanner Pearson and Derek Grant.
Random fact II: Tonight, the Penguins begin their first of 12 sets of back-to-back games on the season. Last year, the Penguins went 13-4-1 in back-to-backs (8-1-0 on the first night; 5-3-1 the second night).
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Silver Seven Sens for all the Senators news you could hope for.
—A couple young lights that give hope for the future with 23-year old Drake Batherson quietly becoming a pretty productive player with 22G and 48P in the last 69 games, dating back to the start of last season. Similarly, 22-year old Josh Norris is another guy who is getting a big role and making the most of it and proving that he has a bright NHL future.
—Getting Brady Tkachuk signed, and sealed up long-term is a big win and perhaps the most important thing that will happen for Ottawa this season. The newly named captain is pulling his weight.
—Filip Gustavsson, acquired from Pittsburgh in the 2018 Derrick Brassard trade, has ever so slowly kept growing and is now in position to be a main netminder. Anyone putting up a .917 save% playing behind this Ottawa team deserves a medal and some kudos, no matter how limited the sample.
—Uhh, like pretty much everyone else, just wait until we get to the sick list.
Lassi makes NHL debut
Quite the turn of events on Thursday. From the Sens official website:
An hour before warmups were scheduled to start Thursday, Lassi Thomson was a scratch. And then he wasn’t.
After Nikita Zaitsev was added to the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol shortly before warmups, Thomson was suddenly about to make his NHL debut with zero preparation.
“To get my first game that way, I didn’t expect it,” Thomson said. “I think that’s the best way to get your first one.”
The Finnish blueliner played 22:29 and registered one hit. His ice-time was higher than initially planned as the Sens lost Artem Zub in the first period but Thomson more than rose to the occasion with a debut to remember.
“Lassi was phenomenal,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said. “It looked like he had played in the league for a long time. He made plays, he defended.”
Thomson was the 19th overall pick in 2019 and joins Shane Pinto as members of that class to play in the NHL. The 21-year-old played 26 minutes Wednesday night for Belleville in Rochester before his recall to Ottawa.
“I literally didn’t sleep last night as I was so nervous for my first NHL practice,” Thomson said. “I knew a little bit of what was going on [after playing in preseason]. But of course, everything is different than the preseason.”
Thomson’s time on ice only trailed Thomas Chabot on the Senators’ blue line and the latter certainly took notice of his exceptional debut.
“He looked like this is where he belonged and that it wasn’t his first game,” Chabot said. “He played well and made some great plays the whole night. He used his tools to his advantage.”
As Silver Seven pointed out, even though Ottawa is a very bare bones operation right now, and even though they got shutout on Thursday — they didn’t really play all that poorly. They had a great effort, shots were 36-34 LA, the score of the game was 0-0 or 1-0 for almost the whole game with the first goal being scored by the Kings on a power play, until they tacked on a second goal late in the game.
Ottawa isn’t very good right now and definitely very, very beaten up, but they also pose a special kind of danger, because they’re an NHL team that is playing fast and loose and has nothing to lose with the weight of no expectations at the moment due to the massive COVID list. That type of team that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know can be dangerous enough to win a 60 minute game.
Thursday Game Lines
Brady Tkachuk - Josh Norris - Zach Sanford
Tim Stützle - Nicholas Paul - Drake Batherson
Tyler Ennis - Chris Tierney - Egor Sokolov
Parker Kelly - Logan Shaw - Scott Sabourin
Thomas Chabot / Michael Del Zotto
Erik Brannstrom / Lassi Thomson
Dillon Heatherington / Artem Zub
Possible Starting Goalie: Filip Gustavsson
Scratches: Andrew Agozzino, Artem Zub
COVID protocol: Matt Murray, Connor Brown, Nick Holden, Austin Watson, Josh Brown, Victor Mete, Dylan Gambrell, Alex Formenton, Nikita Zaitsev
IR: Colin White, Shane Pinto
—But, their effort aside from the above feature, this lineup is just tough to type out and then read back. Sure, there are few good players in the top six and top pair, but the bottom half of this lineup is virtually AHL quality. Because, well, there’s 10 players injured or on COVID, so it pretty much is AHL depth at this point that’s been put into the NHL. That’s not going to make for a pretty picture.
—Beyond COVID, the loss of White is a big deal too, he’s arguably the second most important player on the team behind Tkachuk.
—Looks like Matt Murray vs the Pens won’t happen this time around, he was just added to the COVID list days ago.
—Artem Zub left with an injury last game, so who knows if he will even play tonight. Does Ottawa even have anyone left to replace him? Does it matter?
And now for the Pens..
Projected possible lines
Jake Guentzel - Jeff Carter - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evan Rodrigues - Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Drew O’Connor - Brian Boyle - Zach Aston-Reese
Mike Matheson / Kris Letang
P.O. Joseph / John Marino
Juuso Riikola / Mark Friedman
Probable Starting Goalie: Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Dominik Simon
COVID non-roster list: Sidney Crosby, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Chad Ruhwedel
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee)
—It’s temporarily back to the COVID list for Pettersson and Ruhwedel, who aren’t eligible to play tonight in Canada due to the quarantine in effect with their recent positives. With that, welcome back Juuso Riikola for another game, and P.O. Joseph will be in-line to make his NHL debut in his home country, and down the river from his home province/town.
—As mentioned here yesterday, Tristan Jarry didn’t even make the trip to Ottawa, he’ll meet back up with the team on Sunday in Washington. That means a big opportunity for DeSmith to get the net against a less-than-awesome opponent. Great opportunity for the backup, who usually gets relegated to the second night of the b-2-b when the team might be tired.
Shave my face with a Rusty razor (not the stache, though)
Bryan Rust’s eyes probably light up when he sees Ottawa is coming up on the schedule. The Sens have been where he’s at his most prolific and one of his most productive opponents to play against over the years. From Pens PR:
Winger Bryan Rust has played some of the best hockey of his career against the Ottawa Senators. In 12 career games versus them, Rust has recorded eight goals, five assists, 13 points and is plus-10. He also enters tonight’s game riding a three-game point streak against them (5G-2A). Rust’s 1.08 points-per-game average versus the Senators is his second highest versus any one team.
Team GP G A PTS PTS/GM
Toronto 11 4 8 12 1.09
Ottawa 12 8 5 13 1.08
Chicago 7 5 2 7 1.00
Los Angeles 7 4 3 7 1.00
Nashville 9 5 4 9 1.00
Two of Rust’s four career hat tricks have come against the Senators (Dec. 5, 2016 and Mar. 3, 2020), and three of his 14 career multi-goal games (21.4%) were versus Ottawa.