Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (10-8-5, 25 points, 4th place Metropolitan division) @ Vancouver Canucks (8-14-2, 18 points, 8th place Pacific division)
When: 10:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, CBC for the away broadcast, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Pens won 4-1 again Vancouver the night before Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh. VAN went on to lose to Columbus and Boston to drop to 1-8-1 in a ten game stretch, in what might have been rock bottom. Since then, the Canucks have won two games (against fellow bad Canadian teams OTT and MTL) and return home tonight for the first home game since Nov. 21.
Pens path ahead: One more after tonight on the West Coast, as the Pens will see the Seattle Kraken for the first time ever on Monday night. Then the team returns back to the East with the next game not coming until next Friday in Washington against the Caps.
Season Series: As mentioned above, this is the second and final PIT/VAN game, with the Pens looking for the series sweep.
Random fact: Vancouver is one of the teams Sidney Crosby has performed the worst against over his illustrious career. Of course, even “bad” for Sid is still almost point per game (16 career points [8G+8A] in 18 career games against the Canucks). Crosby has only scored less against Chicago (.46 points/game) and Colorado (.69) as he has against Vancouver over the years as some of his apparent least favorite teams to play.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Nucks Misconduct for all the Canucks news you can get out there.
—Quinn Hughes had four assists last game in Vancouver’s big 6-2 win over Ottawa, making him the first VAN defender to do so since 2009.
—Elias Pettersson did score a goal two games ago and register an assist last game, but overall has just 1G+2A in the last 11 games.
Canucks flying high after Senator blowout
As mentioned above, Vancouver’s hoping to have reached their season low-point earlier. They were feeling pretty confident after last game, reveling in finally winning by a big margin and dominating an opponent. You can sense the good vibes and positive energy in this article from the Canucks’ website:
“We were due for one of those nights for a long time,” Vancouver captain Bo Horvat said. “I think we’ve been playing a lot of good hockey. For us to kind of have a night like that where a lot of guys get on the score sheet definitely gives us confidence.
“But at the same time, we can’t get complacent with that too and get comfortable and think that that’s going to happen every night.”
J.T. Miller had a goal and two assists and Luke Schenn had a goal and an assist for the Canucks (8-14-2), who have won back-to-back games following a four-game losing streak. Thatcher Demko made 19 saves.
“When you go into a room after the game and you win like that, your guys are excited,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “I haven’t felt a whole lot of letdown from our team. I think they know that they’re right there. They’ve been there.
“We’ve lost so many one-goal games (eight) that it’s not like they’ve just been losing and being outplayed. They’ve done a good job keeping their belief and their confidence level high.”
It’ll be interesting to watch how much of this confidence and positive spirit that the home team carries over from last game. The Pens are in the middle of a long road trip, far from home. It might be a bit of a slog for them by this point. Vancouver is a last place team, but at this moment they’re not really just a push over and easy win.
Wednesday Game Lines
Tanner Pearson - Bo Horvat - Conor Garland
Nils Hoglander - JT Miller - Brock Boeser
Justin Dowling - Elias Pettersson - Vasily Podkolzin
Tyler Motte - Jason Dickinson - Alex Chiasson
Oliver Ekman-Larsson / Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes / Luke Schenn
Kyle Burroughs / Tucker Poolman
Possible Starting Goalie: Thatcher Demko (Jaroslav Halak backup)
Scratches: Juho Lammikko, Brad Hunt
IR: Michael Ferland (LTIR), Brandon Sutter (LTIR), Brady Keeper (LTIR), Matthew Highmore (LTIR)
—All lines are different than what we saw Vancouver trout out against the Pens last week. The Canucks played for what was their most dominant win of the season last game.
—Still doesn’t really make sense that if you have Elias Pettersson, why are you playing him on a third line with mid-level wingers? That’s one aspect of the lineup that hasn’t changed since last week. A slump becomes a something of self-fulfilling prophecy by that point when you’re not putting your best player in the best possible position.
And now for the Pens..
Friday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Brock McGinn - Teddy Blueger - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Drew O’Connor - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Possible Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Mark Friedman, Brian Boyle
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee), Bryan Rust (undisclosed lower body injury)
—Mike Sullivan didn’t touch his first line, but the other three groups of forwards were all different on Friday. The most tantalizing line change suggestion for fans would be to move Evan Rodrigues back to center, which would be a good idea if it didn’t violate Rule No. 1 of line changes ideas. That being: do no harm to the Crosby line. You might think you’re making the team more balanced, but you’re not making it better. Rust’s absence pretty much means they need Rodrigues as the top right wing right now.
—The most curious placement is that of Kapanen, who was stapled to the benched for the third period against Edmonton, playing only one shift. Kapanen now finds himself with the team’s best defensive center and that is a weird fit.
—Drew O’Connor looks primed to make his return to the NHL lineup and at center, the spot he was also playing in his recent stint in the AHL. On the wings for O’Connor are two goals in 38 combined games this season, so this line looks like more than a “let’s play them 7-9 minutes, not get scored on and keep it moving” sort of group.
—It always seems like splits of Aston-Reese and Blueger are temporary, short-term and not terribly effective. Sometimes it’s worth giving each a breath of fresh air to see what might happen with new players around, but they’re going to end up back together, and probably sooner than later.
Power play quietly heating up?
With Crosby’s return to the lineup, does it feel like the Pittsburgh power play has become more effective? It still can be at times a frustrating and challenging group to watch, more often than not. But this Pens’ PP has been finding the net with more regularity in recent weeks. From the team’s PR department:
Over the last nine games, Pittsburgh’s power play has clicked at a level that ranks towards the top the NHL. Since Nov. 16, the Penguins have gone 5-for-20 on the power play. The team’s 25% success rate in that span ranks fifth in the NHL:
St. Louis 28.6%
Gotta take small victories and steps in the right direction where you can find ‘em, I suppose.