Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (22-9-5, 49 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ Vegas Golden Knights (23-14-2, 48 points, 1st 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, AT&T Sportsnet Rocky Mountain (ATTSN-RM) out west, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Golden Knights are in first place, but haven’t been terribly impressive or active lately. Vegas hasn’t played in six days after a scheduled weekend trip to play two games in Canada was postponed. And the Knights are only 1-2-2 in calendar 2022 and have lost all four games this year decided by a goal.
Pens path ahead: The road finally ends, for now anyways. The Pens’ long six game road trip is over after tonight, and the boys get to head back home. The schedule stays tough though with three games in basically 3.5 days starting on Thursday with the Pens playing Ottawa at home to start, then quickly over to Columbus for a back-to-back on Friday. And then back in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon for a matchup against the Winnipeg Jets.
Hidden stat: Jeff Carter has nine points (7G-2A) in 16 career games against Vegas. Only five players in NHL history have more goals versus the Golden Knights than Carter’s seven – Anze Kopitar (11), Kyle Connor (9), Ryan O’Reilly (8), Matthew Tkachuk (8), Auston Matthews (8). (h/t Pens PR)
Season Series: VGK is scheduled to come to Pittsburgh on Friday March 11th for the second and final game of the season between these out of conference opponents.
—After a very public and drama-filled split with Marc-Andre Fleury last summer, Vegas traded the reigning Vezina winner for literally nothing to now have...one of the worst goaltending performances of the season. Sounds about right.
—The day after trading Fleury in late July, Vegas quickly moved to trade a draft pick for Evgenii Dadonov and his $5.0 million cap hit for this season and next. That always felt like the weirdest part of the whole sequence to me. You’re in a hurry to usher out the face of your franchise — and oh yeah the best goalie in the league last year — only to turn around and immediately spend most of that savings on a fairly expensive, middle age, middle line player who is mostly filler and seems like empty calorie secondary point producer? Made almost no sense in the off-season then, makes less sense now given Lehner’s struggles and Dadonov plugging away for a decent but not exactly wonderful season that would have been much better directed to helping shore up the goalie position.
—Former Flyer Nolan Patrick hasn’t really had much of a chance to get on track out in Vegas, but hey, he’s still there too! Especially once Jack Eichel gets in the lineup (expected in a few weeks), that really will put Patrick in an almost forgotten position very deep in the lineup. So if he shows any signs of life that will probably just be a bonus for VGK at this point.
Watch the point!
A big part of the Golden Knights offense is shots from the point. More so by percentage than any other team in the NHL so far this season, in fact. The Pens forwards will probably be best not collapsing too deep and keeping a good gap on their point-men.
Percentage of 5v5 Shot Attempts Taken by Defencemen - January 15 pic.twitter.com/2TI8gFoeRo— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) January 15, 2022
Sunday Practice Lines
Evgenii Dadonov - Chandler Stephenson - Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault - William Karlsson - Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark - Nic Roy - Keegan Kolesar
William Carrier - Nolan Patrick - Michael Amadio
Brayden McNabb / Alex Pietrangelo
Shea Theodore / Zach Whitecloud
Ben Hutton / Dylan Coghlan
Possible Starting Goalie: Robin Lehner (Laurent Brossoit backup)
Scratches: Brett Howden, Adam Brooks
COVID Protocol: Shea Theodore, Nicolas Roy
IR: Jack Eichel, Alec Martinez, Jake Bischoff, Max Pacioretty, Nic Hague
—The Knights have been a really banged up team, likely a reason for why their season hasn’t been very smooth given the quality and quantity of players missing. For tonight it looks like they will get Theodore and Roy out of COVID protocol, the former a very key addition.
And now for the Pens
Projected Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jeff Carter - Evgeni Malkin - Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker - Brian Boyle - Kasperi Kapanen
Dominik Simon - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Projected Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry (Louis Domingue as backup)
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Drew O’Connor, Radim Zohorna
COVID Protocol: Casey DeSmith, Danton Heinen, Zach Aston-Reese
Taxi Squad: Juuso Riikola, Filip Hallander
—Tonight should be one of the strongest on paper lineups in a long, long time for the Pens. Zucker and Rust were officially deemed “game time decisions”, usually a very good indicator that both will play. Malkin missed practice yesterday but was called a “maintenance day” which typically means he should be considered healthy enough to play too.
—The lines that Sullivan will use probably won’t be exactly the above, but it will be insightful to see what direction he is going to try. With Rust back, Sid and the Kids are a given, which bumps Rodrigues away from Crosby (perhaps best for everyone, since Rodrigues has been fairly quiet the last few games). That means the Carter-Malkin-Kapanen experiment has reached a terminus. Does Carter and Rodrigues both still stay on the wing? If one slides to center (likely of the two it would be Carter), that could open the door for scratching Boyle and getting Zohorna in the game, if Zohorna doesn’t get the nod over his countryman in Simon anyways.
—The player I’m really interested in watching for how the use is Kapanen. Kapanen only had three shifts and played just 1:50 total in the third period last game against the Ducks. While it’s true the Pens had to PK a lot and Kapanen’s ice time was bound to be low via that situational gameplay aspect, Zohorna doesn’t kill penalties and he got six shifts and 4:36 in the third period, as a rookie or new enough face to the lineup (including shifts in Kapanen’s spot with Malkin). Kapanen is almost always the first forward to get his minutes slashed these days when things aren’t going well and it seems like he’s on never ending ups-and-downs with how the coaches view and value him. With the Pens possibly about to get even healthier by the end of this week (Heinen and Aston-Reese could both be back relatively quickly) it could even be creeping towards possible that Kapanen finds himself a healthy scratch if the situation escalates on this trajectory.
Milestone and streak watch
- Kris Letang is on a seven game point streak (2G+10A in this span)
- Bryan Rust has scored goals in the last four games he has played, dating back to Nov 24th (8G+4A)
- One of Evgeni Malkin’s goal against LA the other night was his 74th career game winning goal. That tied Mario Lemieux for second place in franchise history. Jaromir Jagr, 78, is the current leader, in one of the few major statistical categories that Jagr still holds onto 20+ years after he has been gone.