When: 10:30 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, NBC Sports California in the Bay Area
Opponent Track: Of the Sharks’ five past wins, four were earned in extra-time. That string of overtime battles has been even more tense than normal, given San Jose’s position in the tightly-packed Pacific Division wild-card race. Like the Penguins, they sit at fourth place in their division; unlike the Penguins, who currently have an eight-point cushion over fifth-point Columbus, the Sharks have just a single-point advantage over Calgary and three over Edmonton. In their Thursday outing, they were shut out by the New York Rangers, so a point for them is very nearly crucial tonight.
Pens path ahead: The Penguins will finish out their longest road trip of 2021-22 and mark their final late start time of the season (you’re welcome, East Coasters) when they face off against the Golden Knights in Las Vegas at 10 p.m. EST on Monday, January 17.
Season Series: The Penguins faced off against the Sharks during a Sunday matinee at PPG Paints Arena on January 2. The outing turned out to be Pittsburgh’s highest-scoring of the season so far: the Penguins opened with four goals in the first seven minutes and ended with hat tricks for both Evan Rodrigues and Bryan Rust. The Sharks weren’t completely absent— they scored three times in a span of four minutes in the third, and Casey DeSmith finished with just a .815 save percentage after allowing five goals on 27 shots in the 8-5 Penguins win.
—After catching up with Olli Maatta on Thursday, the Penguins will meet up with another old friend in San Jose. After being activated from the Sharks’ COVID-19 protocol list on Thursday, Nick Bonino will be skating against the Penguins. When you see him take the ice on the Sharks’ third line, pour one out for HBK.
—Adam Raska, who made his NHL debut during an overtime victory over the Red Wings on January 12 and who Fear the Fine describes as “maybe a bit of a pest”, will still be looking for his first NHL point on Saturday. He’s not the only rookie on the San Jose roster: Ryan Merkley (10 gp) and Jasper Weatherby (34 gp) are also in their first NHL season.
—Speaking of first NHL seasons: With goaltender James Reimer on the injured reserve, the Sharks have one backup option. That would be Zachary Sawchenko, who played his NHL debut— and only NHL game so far— against the Penguins on January 2. Adin Hill has started in five straight outings, and with the standings as tight as they are, the Penguins will expect to face him in his sixth.
Thursday Game Lines
Rudolfs Balcers – Tomas Hertl – Timo Meier
Jonathan Dahlen – Logan Couture – Noah Gregor
Andrew Cogliano – Nick Bonino – Matt Nieto
Jeffrey Viel – Jasper Weatherby – Adam Raska
Mario Ferraro / Brent Burns
Jaycob Megna / Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic / Ryan Merkley
Possible Starting Goalie: Adin Hill (Zachary Sawchenko backup)
Scratches: Radim Simek, Nicholas Meloche, Adam Raska, Lane Pederson
COVID Protocol: Alexander Barabanov
IR: James Reimer (lower body), Jacob Middleton (upper body), Kevin Labanc (upper body), Nikolai Knyzhov (upper body), Jonah Gadjovich (upper body)
—Andrew Cogliano skated in his 1,100th NHL game against the Rangers on Thursday— in fact, he’s missed just 12 games since he joined the NHL on October 4, 2007. He’s not the only veteran in San Jose; Marc-Edouard Vlasic reached the 1,100 milestone earlier this season, while leading defensive producer Brent Burns has a modest 1,207 contests under his belt.
—Timo Meier was tapped to be the Sharks’ representative at the 2022 All-Star Game. Heading into Friday, he ranks 10th in the NHL with 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) and has six goals and five assists in his last 10 games. It’s the first All-Star appearance for Meier, a career-high 66-point player who is currently on pace to hit 99.
—Nick Merkley, who has been playing right wing on the Sharks’ fourth line, was reassigned to the AHL on Friday.
Tomas Hertl, NHL’s Third Star of the Week
It may be Meier who’s heading to Las Vegas in February, but Sharks winger Tomas Hertl is making headlines; the NHL gave him Third Star honors for the week of January 10 after he put up four goals (including two game-winners) and two assists for six points in three games.
According to NHL.com:
Since the NHL released the announcement, Hertl has recorded zero points in the Sharks’ last two outings. Watch out, Penguins; he might be due for one.
And now for the Pens
Projected Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jeff Carter - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Radim Zohorna - Teddy Blueger - Dominik Simon
Kasper Bjorkqvist - Brian Boyle - Anthony Angello
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Drew O’Connor
COVID Protocol: Brock McGinn, Bryan Rust, Danton Heinen, Zach Aston-Reese
IR: Jason Zucker (lower body)
Taxi Squad: Juuso Riikola, Filip Hallander
ERod Wants Back in the Groove
You know what they say: put a winger on Sidney Crosby’s line, and their point production will drop to nothing.
Wait, that doesn’t sound right... but since Bryan Rust was placed on COVID-19 protocol on January 8 and Evan Rodrigues was bumped up to take his place on the first line, he’s put up goose eggs in every production category. It’s the first time since November 20 he’s been kept off the scoreboard for multiple games in a row, and all while averaging over 20 minutes per night.
It feels like it’s only a matter of time until Rodrigues snaps the pointless streak— he’s getting the chances, he’s had a stellar season, and he’s playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. But if he’s held off the scoreboard once again against the Sharks, it will be interesting to see if head coach Mike Sullivan will start shuffling the first line.
Milestone and streak watch
Jake Guentzel’s 18-game point streak, the NHL’s longest since Nikita Kucherov marked the scoreboard in 19 straight back in 2019-20, is over. Luckily, when your team is stacked with stars, there are always some milestones to look out for.
- Evgeni Malkin celebrated his return to the Penguins roster against the Ducks on Tuesday night by scoring the 74th game-winning goal of his career in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win, tying him with Mario Lemieux for second place on the Penguins’ all-time GWG leaderboard. His next game-winner will put him behind only Jaromir Jagr (78) for the all-time franchise lead.
- After his goal against the Kings in the Penguins’ Thursday night loss, red-hot Kris Letang— who has 13 points (1-12—13) in his past nine games— needs just one point to tie Ron Francis (613) for sixth place among all point producers in Penguins history.