Who: Boston Bruins (18-9-5, 41 points, 4th place in the Eastern Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (23-11-2, 48 points, 2nd place in the Eastern Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, NESN in Boston
Opponent Track: Since they beat the Pens 2-1 a couple of weeks ago on March 16th (you might remember this as the game Evgeni Malkin got hurt), Boston is 3-1-1. The competition wasn’t much, the three wins against Buffalo and NJ, with a OTL to the Islanders.
Pens path ahead: With the NCAA coming to Pittsburgh for the Frozen Four, the Pens are on the road for a while. Tonight is the first of a six game road trip that will eat up the first half of April. The Pens stay in Boston to play the Bruins on Saturday afternoon. The next games are in New York to see the Rangers next Tuesday and Thursday followed by a back-to-back to play the Devils next Friday and then the following Sunday (4/11).
Season Series: Boston is up 3-1 on the season series (though Pittsburgh is a 1-2-1 from their perspective). The Bruins won 3-2 in OT back on January 26th in the first PIT/BOS game of the season. And then on January 28th the Bruins took a 4-1 decision. The Pens struck back at home for a 4-1 win on 3/15 and then Boston took the game on 3/16 2-1. After the games this week, the Pens and Bruins will meet up again when Boston comes back to Pittsburgh on April 25th and 27th.
Recent History: It’s now a losing streak of 0-8-2 for the Penguins in TD Garden Arena in the last ten games. The last Pens win in Boston was way back on November 24th, 2014, when Mike Johnston was still coach. Pretty wild that for all the time Mike Sullivan has been coach and all of the success he’s had, he’s never won a game with the Pens in his hometown.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder for the latest news to know about the Bruins.
Player Stats at a Glance
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick Ritchie – David Krejci - Craig Smith
Anders Bjork – Charlie Coyle – Zach Senyshyn
Anton Blidh – Trent Frederic - Karson Kuhlman
Jeremy Lauzon / Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk / Brendan Carlo
Jakub Zboril / Connor Clifton
Announced starting goalie: Dan Vladar
Scratches: Chris Wagner, Tuukka Rask, Jarred Tinordi, Steven Kampfer
Recent NHL COVID list: Sean Kuraly, Jake DeBrusk
IR: John Moore, Kevan Miller, Ondrej Kase
—The Bruins have had some COVID issues, with Kuraly and DeBrusk still on the outside until yesterday at practice. Brad Marchand was briefly on the list last week, but it was a deemed a false positive and he is back. Kuraly is questionable for today given that he hasn’t played in a while and just removed from the COVID list. DeBrusk is a little behind him and perhaps a possibility for Saturday as well.
—We didn’t see Tuukka Rask two weeks ago in the last Pens/Bruins games and he came back for one game and is now injured again. He’s not expected to play this week, which probably means seeing Halak at some point for the Pens. That naturally brings a shudder, but in his Bruins career (2018-19-present) Halak is 4-4 with a .912 save% and a 2.65 GAA against the Pens while with Boston. That’s decent, but not really as good as 2010 Halak + 2013 Boston might hearken back such bad memories.
—But the Pens won’t see Halak starting tonight. Rookie Dan Vladar (who stopped 34/35 vs the Pens on 3/16) will play. Vladar has only played once since then, stopping 25/27 against Buffalo in a 3-2 Bruins win last Saturday, 3/27.
Bjork bringing it
The recent COVID listing has opened up an opportunity for forward Anders Bjork. The Notre Dame product has made the most of that chance recently. From Bruins.com
Anders Bjork appears to be gaining more confidence by the night. Playing the left side with Charlie Coyle and Zach Senyshyn on Boston’s third line in recent games, the winger has been more assertive, with his speed and skill on full display. There has been a noticeable uptick in his effort to drive to the net, which has created a number of point-blank chances.
The 24-year-old has played north of 13 minutes in all four games of the B’s homestand, including his two-point (goal, assist) outing in the opener against the Islanders last week.
Bjork said part of his success of late has been his enhanced inclusion on the penalty kill, opportunity that was presented by the recent absences of Brad Marchand, Sean Kuraly, and Chris Wagner.
“I’m really trying to take pride in my penalty kill,” said Bjork, who has averaged 1:42 of shorthanded time on ice this season. “That’s something that I’ve been focusing on a lot and working with the coaches on. It gets me on the ice more, gets me more in the game, a couple extra minutes. It’s huge for our team, it’s an important part of the game.
“I think that’s been contributing these last couple games here. Been playing with some more confidence, getting around the net more, making a few more plays. Just trying to keep focusing on that and trying to get more pucks to the net and get to the net myself more because that’s how you start breaking over that cusp and scoring goals.”
And now for the Pens..
Yesterday’s Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Jared McCann - Evan Rodrigues
Zach Aston-Reese - Frederick Gaudreau - Brandon Tanev
Sam Lafferty - Mark Jankowski - Anthony Angello
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / Cody Ceci
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Possible starting goalie: Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel, Radim Zohorna, Colton Sceviour
IR: Evgeni Malkin, Mark Friedman, Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev, Kasperi Kapanen
Taxi Squad: Yannick Weber, Maxime Lagace, Emil Larmi, Drew O’Connor
—The slow trickle of players returning to health is continuing and next up is Brandon Tanev. Tanev is still on IR as of now (probably will be coming off today!) which will mean someone (Zorhona? Weber?) will also have to go back to the taxi squad to make room under the 23 player limit.
—The news was less good on Tristan Jarry, who did not practice yesterday and is considered “day to day”. The Pens have also called up Maxime Lagace from the minors, so either Lagace or Emil Larmi will have to serve as backup for this game, and possibly games to come.
—Also, lowkey, a nice opportunity for Gaudreau to play with the buzzsaw wingers tonight if Tanev comes off the IR. Could this be the Pens’ fourth line going forward for the rest of the season? That would be a very positive thing if it works and free up Malkin to play with Kapanen and Zucker and Blueger with McCann and Rodirgues as of now...Barring any trades. The best laid plans are easily ruined but if Gaudreau can continue to succeed that would be a very, very encouraging sign. He has the chance right now before too many more come back to prove that he belongs in the plans a little longer.
Power play heating up
The Pens power play has been getting better as the season has gone on. From the team’s PR arm:
The Penguins have made significant strides on the power play as the season has progressed. Pittsburgh has five power-play goals over its last three games (5/11, 45.5%), and during the month of March Pittsburgh’s power play operated at 28.3% which was sixth-best in the league during that span. As each calendar month has flipped, the Penguins have seen improvement on the power play:
Feb. 1 13.9
Mar. 1 15.0
Apr. 1 20.8
Boston has the NHL’s #1 ranked penalty kill at a tremendous 89.5% on the season. Pittsburgh’s power play will have it’s work cut out for them, at 20.8% they are up to the 16th ranked PP in the league and might need that group to cut through the great Boston PK to finally break their long losing streak in Boston.