Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (20-9-5, 45 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ Anaheim Ducks (19-12-7, 45 points, 2nd place Pacific Division)
When: 10:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, Bally Sports West (BSW), ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Ducks are just 2-3-1 after the holiday break, and have been in a lose-win-lose-win trend in the new year. Which could be good news for the Pens if that pattern holds, since Anaheim is coming off a 4-3 shootout home win over Detroit on Sunday in their last outing.
Pens path ahead: The western road trip continues with a game against Los Angeles (10:30 p.m., Thursday) and then up to San Jose (10 p.m., Saturday). The Pens will finish out their longest road trip of the season in Las Vegas next Monday (Jan. 17th).
Hidden stat: The Penguins have points in 12 of 15 games against Western Conference (8-3-4) opponents this season (h/t Pens PR).
Hidden stat II: Anaheim has been far more formidable at home this season (12-5-4) than away from the Honda Center (7-7-3). For their part, the Pens are pretty much identical with their results, be it at home (10-5-2) or away (10-4-3) game.
Season Series: The Ducks visited Pittsburgh a month ago on December 11th, a 1-0 Penguin regulation win. But both key players from that game for Pittsburgh won’t be playing tonight due to the COVID list (Brock McGinn scored the game’s lone goal, Casey DeSmith made saves on all 33 shots he faced). Tonight concludes the 2021-22 PIT/ANA season series.
—With eight players projected to be in the lineup tonight that are 25 years old or younger, the future is now for the Ducks. Led by the explosive Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras, Anaheim has gone from “meh” to “must watch” with innovative and high-skill plays.
—Terry has been especially incredible. His 22 goals ranked third in the entire NHL currently, behind only Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin. Terry has four goals in the last three games, including a hat trick over the Flyers.
—After bouncing around between Columbus and their AHL affiliate and then Anaheim and their AHL team, former 2014 first round pick Sonny Milano looks like he has finally found a home and a niche with the Ducks. Milano already has set a career-high in assists and points in 2021-22.
—On the back-end, the sixth overall pick in 2020 Jamie Drysdale is still a teenager but a full and legit NHL defenseman. Add to Zegras (ninth overall in 2019) and the Ducks look like they have hit a couple of absolute home runs to get star players/potential franchise cornerstones without having top three picks lately in the draft.
Sunday Game Lines
Brayden Tracey - Ryan Getzlaf - Troy Terry
Sonny Milano - Trevor Zegras - Rickard Rakell
Max Comtois - Isac Lundestrom -Jakob Silfverberg
Nicolas Deslauriers - Sam Steel - Buddy Robinson
Cam Fowler / Josh Manson
Kevin Shattenkirk / Jamie Drysdale
Simon Benoit / Greg Pateryn
Goalies: Lukas Dostal or Anthony Stolarz
Scratches: Jacob Larsson
COVID Protocol: Derek Grant, Sam Carrick, Vinni Lettieri, Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson
IR: Ryan Kesler (unofficially retired), Adam Henrique, Max Jones, Josh Mahura
—The Ducks have been hit by COVID protocol as well, with the young and talented prospect Dostal getting his first career NHL game on Sunday due to Gibson being unavailable. Dostal did well, stopping 33/36 shots and both shootout tries to earn the win.
—Anaheim has made the most of the COVID/injury issues, giving young players good chances and opportunities. Former 2019 first rounder Tracey (drafted eight spots after the Pens took Sam Poulin) made his NHL debut last game, in a spot with quality linemates. 2020 first rounder Jacob Perreault also got a chance with skilled players in the NHL last week before being re-assigned to the AHL.
Watch the net, just not like you expect..
As touched on above, the Ducks’ young players have assaulted the league so far this season with unique and creative offensive. Often using new angles and flipping the puck over and around and eventually into the net, their offensive touch has touched a nerve on older/traditional observers but been incredibly effective.
The net every time the Ducks flip the puck over it pic.twitter.com/1sTCwGk9oJ— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) January 9, 2022
The Ducks use all kinds of ways to create space and typically flip the puck over and around from the back of the net. They’ve been doing it a ton lately.
The Ducks are such a fun team to watch. pic.twitter.com/5T1qpQ21Wg— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 5, 2022
If you notice the date stamp on these tweets, a lot are from very recently. Zegras tried this a few games ago against the Rangers. But note four NYR players clamped down, teams are already adjusting to take space in front away.
The over the net knob is fully cranked pic.twitter.com/6FUHtrQ10b— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) January 9, 2022
And, of course, it all boils back to this play from Zegras to Milano last month in one of the most eye-catching highlights of the season.
So, yeah, any skilled Ducks player behind the net — but especially Trevor Zegras — be ready for something crazy to happen.
And now for the Pens
Projected Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jeff Carter - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Danton Heinen
Kasper Bjorkqvist - Brian Boyle - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Projected Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry (Louis Domingue as backup)
Scratches: Mark Friedman
COVID Protocol: Brock McGinn, Bryan Rust, Casey DeSmith
IR: Jason Zucker (lower body)
Taxi Squad: Juuso Riikola, Radim Zohorna, Anthony Angello
—Some roster movement yesterday with Drew O’Connor being removed from COVID protocol but assigned back to Wilkes-Barre. And Zohorna and Angello get the call up after completing the weekend AHL games to join the taxi squad in case any further COVID tests pop up.
—But the big news is Evgeni Malkin. Coach Mike Sullivan called him officially a “game time decision” yesterday, which is code for a returning player is expected to come back. It will be Malkin’s first action in the 2021-22 season.
The man that makes ‘em all say “ohh!”, it’s Genoooo!
The Pens game notes came ready for the expected return of Malkin. From the team:
Superstar center Evgeni Malkin appears to be close to returning to the lineup after missing the first 33 games of the season following offseason shoulder surgery. The three-time Stanley Cup Champion is one of the most accomplished players in franchise history. When Malkin hits the ice for the first time, he’ll join Sidney Crosby (17), Mario Lemieux (17) and Kris Letang (16) as the only players in franchise history to skate 16 seasons with the team. Malkin’s 940 games played (2nd), 424 goals (4th), 680 assists (3rd) and 1,104 points (3rd) all rank in the top-5 in franchise history.
Among active players, Malkin ranks fifth in points, but third in points-per-game average:
Player GP PTS PTS/GM
Connor McDavid 440 627 1.43
Sidney Crosby 1,061 1,349 1.27
Evgeni Malkin 940 1,104 1.17
Alex Ovechkin 1,233 1,371 1.11
Artemi Panarin 464 509 1.10
It will be great to see No. 71 back out there, and surely he will be ready to make an impact after a long layoff. The Pens’ power play has only scored 17 total goals in 34 games so far this season, it is exciting to think how that could and should improve by adding the skill boost of having Malkin back.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby (1,349) tied Mats Sundin for 29th place in all-time NHL points production on Thursday. A point tonight would move him to 28th on the all-time list, where he will sit just three points behind Guy Lafleur (1,353).
- The era of Jake Guentzel domination continues: although not an official point streak (injury kept him from the lineup from December 7 to January 1), he has points in the last 17 games he’s skated in, racking up a 26 points (15G+11A) in that span.
- Guentzel also has a road point streak going, he’s gotten on the scoresheet for each and every of his 14 road contests of the season so far — putting him in some super elite company.