Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-5, 37 points, 4th place Metropolitan division) @ New Jersey Devils (10-14-5, 25 points, 7th place Metropolitan division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet for the local feed, MSG+ for the away broadcast, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Another favorable break for Pittsburgh, this is a tough stretch for the Devils. Tonight marks the dreaded fourth game in six days and is their third game in four days, and second half of a back-to-back, having lost 5-2 last night in Detroit and having to travel back home. It’s been a tough month for the Devils, who have now lost five straight and are just 1-7-1 in December.
Pens path ahead: The next game sees the Pens play these same Devils back in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and then Pittsburgh is scheduled to host Philadelphia on Thursday before three days off over the holiday weekend. And there’s already talk that the first game after the break (@Boston, Monday Dec 27th) may be trending towards being postponed due to Bruin COVID issues....
Season Series: The first meeting was way back on October 30th in Pittsburgh, with the Devils taking a 4-2 win. This week are games two and three of the season series and then the two teams are scheduled next to play on February 24th (the planned first game back after the Olympic break) to conclude the season set.
Random fact: Teddy Blueger has five points (2G+3A) in his last five games against the Devils. (h/t Pens PR)
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out All About the Jersey to get your fill of Devils related news and notes.
Another team with five goalies in less than 30 games! And, surprise, it’s not been going well for any of them.
—Jesper Bratt has six points (2G+4A) and has emerged as a leading scorer on the team, but he is not out with what is called a non-COVID illness last night, who knows if he can play in this game.
—It’s a modest number (3G) but Jack Hughes is leading the team in goals this month and has returned pretty well from an earlier injury this season
—Youngster Dawson Mercer was a real standout in training camp and early in the season, but only has 1G+0A in the last eight games before scoring a goal last night. A bit early to think he would have hit a rookie wall, but he certainly hasn’t been as productive recently as when he burst onto the scene. To make matters worse, in December (entering last night) he was a team worst -10 in eight games, which no matter what you think about the +/- stat, it’s never good to be that low and stand out negatively compared to teammates.
—I really liked the play and pep of Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen last season, but neither have been able to build on that just yet this year. In December the two have a combined 1G+2A in 13 total games played entering last night.
—Andreas Johnsson was brought in from Toronto with the hopes of being a productive supporting player, and hasn’t fit the mold. Just 0G+1A in eight games.
Saturday Game Lines
Pavel Zacha - Jack Hughes - Tomas Tatar
Andreas Johnsson - Dawson Mercer - ____ (empty, Bratt missing)
Janne Kuokkonen - Yegor Sharangovich - Marian Studenic
Jimmy Vesey - Michael McLeod - Nathan Bastian
Ty Smith / Dougie Hamilton
Jonas Siegenthaler / Damon Severson
Mason Geertsen / Kevin Bahl
Possible Starting Goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood? (Akira Schmid started last night)
Scratches: Jon Gillies,
COVID Protocol: PK Subban, Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, Christian Jaros, Jesper Boqvist
IR: Jonathan Bernier, Miles Wood, Tyce Thompson
—The Devils have been one of the growing number of NHL teams affected by rising positive COVID cases with Subban joining the list of unavailable players yesterday.
—And Bratt’s late scratch means the team had to play last night one player short with only 11F and 6D. AHL affiliate Utica is also in a suspended period right now due to high COVID cases, so NJ is unable at this time to recall any players either. If Bratt isn’t cleared by tonight, it looks like Jersey will be forced to be down a player yet again.
And now for the Pens..
Saturday Practice Lines
Kasperi Kapanen - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Drew O’Connor - Sam Lafferty - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Possible Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith backup)
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Brian Boyle (day to day injury)
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee), Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel
—Yesterday at practice, Malkin was a placeholder for Zucker, who had the day off for a “maintenance day”, of which he had several last week. Probably important to keep in mind for a player who can’t score when we continue to see very limited involvement in practice and likely being less than 100% right now. Sullivan clarified that Malkin won’t be playing wing as he comes back, but he did appear in a contact jersey and is continuing to fairly quickly now make a lot of progress in being able to ramp up participation and showing tangible signs that his season debut could be in the next handful of games.
The winning streak continues
The Pens are looking to extend their win streak to seven tonight and have been downright dominant as of late. From the team’s PR department:
The Penguins 3-2 overtime win over Buffalo on Friday gave the them their first six-game winning streak of the season. The Penguins active six-game win streak is tied for the second-longest active winning streak in the league behind the Nashville Predators (7).
Below is a look at Pittsburgh’s league ranks since its win streak began (Dec. 4):
Wins (6) T-2nd
GF/GM (3.83) 6th
GA/GM (1.33) 1st
SV% (.952) 1st
PK% (100%) T-1st
FO% (57.8%) 1st