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Game Preview, Pittsburgh Penguins @ Chicago Blackhawks, 11/9/2021: Lines, how to watch

The Pens play Marc-Andre Fleury...for the last time?

NHL: DEC 12 Penguins at Blackhawks Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who: Chicago Blackhawks (2-9-2, 6 points, 7th place Central division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-3, 11 points, 8th place Metropolitan division)

When: 8:30 p.m. eastern

How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, NBC Sports Chicago, ESPN+

Opponent Track: It’s been really bad in Chicago. In the midst of dealing with the revelations of the investigation from how the team’s leadership mishandled Kyle Beach’s sexual assault scandal, the team went 1-9-2 to start the season. Long-time GM Stan Bowman left the team as a result of his role in the 2010 fiasco. Interim GM Kyle Davidson had no choice but to fire coach Jeremy Colliton on Friday after a 5-1 loss to Winnipeg. Chicago responded by winning 2-1 in OT on Sunday against Nashville for only their second win of the season in the first game under interim coach Derek King.

Pens path ahead: The Pens are back Pittsburgh to play the Florida Panthers on Thursday before a weekend national capital road trip, going to Ottawa on Saturday, then down to Washington to meet the Caps for the first time this season on Sunday.

Season Series: This will be the second and final CHI/PIT game of the season, with the Pens taking a 5-2 win in Pittsburgh a few weeks back.

Random fact: Pittsburgh is looking to snap a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2) in Chicago that dates back to Feb. 20, 2011.

SBN Team Counterpart: Pull up on Second City Hockey for all the Blackhawk news you could hope for.

Stats

From hockeydb:

Who’s hot:

—Alex Debrincat and Patrick Kane combined on the OT goal on Sunday, and both are individually having decent enough seasons around the disastrous times around them.

Who’s not:

—Seth Jones has been a heat magnet recently for eye test vs. analytics. 11 assists in 13 games looks nice, as does playing almost 26 minutes a game. Then again, in those minutes Jones has a 40.9 xGF% (worst among regular defensemen) and has been on ice for six 5v5 goals for, compared to 15 against. Chicago has been throttled on scoring chances while he’s been out there. So you can still probably try to spin or paint whatever picture you’re inclined to see from his early start.

—Many thought Dylan Strome was turning a corner and finally carving out an NHL niche in Chicago. It doesn’t look like that now.

—Our previous low-key player to watch, Philipp Kurashev, has also had a very unproductive season and possibly seen a chance at playing in an NHL top-six come to an end.

—It probably says more about the team around him than anything, but Marc-Andre Fleury has had just a terrible start with a GAA north of 4 and a save percentage well below where he has been in recent seasons.

Blackhawks “playing free” under new coach

Off-ice issues aside, Chicago was totally rudderless under coach Jeremy Colliton, who looked especially hapless this season. The switch to King, as perhaps expected, gave the team a new energy last game and will present a challenge for the Pens tonight. From blackhawks.nhl.com

After Alex DeBrincat netted the game-winner off a 2-on-1 rush with Patrick Kane, the winger made a point to pick the winning puck out of the net and deliver it to interim head coach Derek King, who netted his first win just 30 hours into his new role.

“It was a nice gesture,” King said. “But I made it clear that this wasn’t about me. I love the fact that — it’s your first game, you get a win, obviously you’re pumped about it, but this is not about me. This is about those guys and I told them that: ‘You guys should be proud of each other because you stuck together and you fought through it and you got a win.

“It’s fun to win games. It’s been tough this first month of the season, but the guys battled hard today and got the win,” DeBrincat said. “That’s what matters right now is getting wins and having fun. Good for Kinger to get his first win and wanted to make sure he got the puck.”

Monday Practice Lines

FORWARDS

Alex DeBrincat - Kirby Dach - Patrick Kane

Dominik Kubalik - Jonathan Toews - *rotation

Mike Hardman - Dylan Strome - Henrik Borgstrom

*rotation - Ryan Carpenter - Philipp Kurashev

*Reese Johnson, Juhjar Khaira and Adam Gaudette are the rotating players, per Ben Pope

DEFENSEMEN

Riley Stillman / Seth Jones

Jake McCabe / Connor Murphy

Wyatt Kalynuk** / Erik Gustafsson

Probable Starting Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratches: Calvin de Haan**, Mackenzie Entwistle, Brandon Hagel

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

COVID Protocol: Tyler Johnson, Isaak Phillips

—de Haan didn’t practice yesterday, but Kalynuk is still on the IR as well, so that could be a switch from practice to the game if de Haan can answer the bell and play tonight. Hagel and Entwistle also have minor injuries and didn’t practice yesterday, maybe they play tonight, maybe not...With a new coach sorting things out, the line situation is predictably messy and very unsettled right now in Chicago as they try and get it together.

—Could this be the last time we see Marc-Andre Fleury play a game with the Pens? As mentioned, Fleury turns 37 later this season. He’s in the last year of his contract. A sincere reluctance to have to move his young family across the country almost caused Fleury to retire from the sport this summer after his unceremonious and unexpected dumping from Vegas. Does he play next year at age 38? It would probably again be a different city to move his family yet again for another new team, as Chicago is in shambles.

—I know there’s always the deep down hope for a lot of people that the Pens and Fleury might one day come back together, and never say never, but...the end could be approaching for Fleury pretty quickly. There are only two goalies who have played NHL games this season that are older than Fleury. Can you name them? (No cheating, answer at the bottom of this preview..)

And now for the Pens..

Projected Lines

Forwards

Jake Guentzel - Jeff Carter - Bryan Rust

Jason Zucker - Evan Rodrigues - Kasperi Kapanen

Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn

Drew O’Connor - Brian Boyle - Danton Heinen

Defense

Mike Matheson / Kris Letang

P.O Joseph / John Marino

Juuso Riikola / Mark Friedman

Probable Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry

Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Dominik Simon, Taylor Fedun

COVID non-roster list: Sidney Crosby, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Chad Ruhwedel

IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee)

—The Pens practiced on Monday with the same lines as Saturday night. It doesn’t look like they have much to change up for anyways, but this personnel should probably stick for about the next week until the COVID players are cleared up.

—Malkin skated before practice yesterday on his own, for the second time in four days. There’s been no major news or updates, which means expect the same “will miss two months” timeline, but it does look like his rehab is at least on track as he continues to get on-ice workouts in and has begun cutting and changing directions on his surgically repaired knee.

Second line, top production

The Zucker-Rodrigues-Kapanen line has been performing well lately. From the Pens’ PR team:

The line of Evan Rodrigues (2A), Kasperi Kapanen (3G) and Jason Zucker (2A) was on fire Saturday night, combining for three goals and seven points. Rodrigues, who had assists on two of Kapanen’s three goals, recorded his second multi-point effort of the season and is tied with Kapanen, Kris Letang and Drew O’Connor for the most multi-point performances on the team.

Rodrigues enters tonight’s game with goals in two consecutive road games (2G). With a goal tonight, he can have his first three-game road goal scoring streak since he scored in four-straight road games from Jan 14-29, 2019 (4G-1A) as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Let’s also point out that Zucker (34) leads the team in shots on goal, with Rodrigues (32) and Kapanen (28) not too far behind. That’s a function of others being out of the lineup, but also a good sign for all of these guys looking to get pucks on net when they can. Zucker’s 3.4 shots/game through the 10 games is a pace of 278 shots.

That’s almost double the 1.76 shots/game Zucker had last season, and would easily set a career-high (222 SOG in a season) if he keeps it up. For a player who outright stated in the preseason that he wanted to shoot the puck more, Zucker is living up to that declaration. He’s “only” on a 25-goal pace for the season, but is only shooting 8.8% this season so far, compared to a career-average of 12.6%. There’s a real hope and chance Zucker gets some positive regression and could get on a hot goal scoring streak at this rate.

Trivia answer: the two goalies who are older than Marc-Andre Fleury that have played in the NHL this season are Mike Smith (EDM) and Craig Anderson (BUF)