Who: Boston Bruins (8-1-0, 16 points, 1st place Atlantic Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (4-4-1, 9 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 8:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: Nationally broadcast game on ESPN, also Sling TV
Opponent Track: The Bruins enter this game having put together the best October in the NHL. They won eight out of nine games and have five straight wins. Their competition hasn’t exactly been the most challenging with wins over weak/average or at least slow-starting teams like AZ, ANA, CBJ, MIN, WSH, and DET- but hey, wins are wins and nobody has won more to start the year than Boston.
Pens Path Ahead: Weird part of the schedule for the Pens right now. They hurry up to play tomorrow night in Buffalo for another back-to-back, and then only have one game in the following six days (at home against Seattle on Saturday night). After that they play three in four days, all on the road. It’s a pretty odd first half of November for Pittsburgh with the timing and rhythm of the games coming up.
Season Series: When these teams next meet on January 2nd, there won’t be a roof as they play in the NHL’s signature Winter Classic event at Fenway Park in Boston. After that, the third and final PIT/BOS regular season game is all the way on Saturday April 1st in a weekend matinee game back in Pittsburgh.
Getting to know the Bruins
SB Nation counterpart: Stanley Cup of Chowder
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jake DeBrusk
Taylor Hall -Pavel Zacha - David Pastrnak
AJ Greer - Charlie Coyle - Craig Smith
Nick Foligno - Tomas Nosek - Jakub Lauko
Hampus Lindholm / Brendan Carlo
Derek Forbort / Connor Clifton
Matt Grzlecyk / Anton Stralman
Goalies: Linus Ullmark (Jeremy Swayman)
Scratches: David Krejci (injured 10/27, did not practice yesterday), Jakub Zboril, Trent Frederic
IR: Charlie McAvoy (LTIR)
—The Pens get a little lucky, today is Boston’s 10th game and McAvoy remains ineligible to play from his spot on LTIR. He is practicing and looking to return to the lineup soon. Considering McAvoy is one of the finest defensive defensemen in the league (and, defensemen of any nature period, for that matter), that puts Boston’s start in even greater perspective that they have been playing so well without their best defender.
—Krejci’s return has gone better than imagined. The 36-year old took a one year NHL hiatus last season by personal choice for his family to spend time in Czechia. Surprisingly, he came on back to the NHL this season and has performed incredibly well with eight points in eight games to start the season. Boston was using an All-Czech line with Krejci, Zacha and Pastrnak for a while to great results, but it looks as if Krejci’s injury from last week will prevent him from playing in this game.
—As an impending UFA, Pastrnak is making his case for why the Bruins need to re-sign him, and at this rate the price is only going up, up, up. Pastrnak has been something of a quiet star (sure he gets Dunkin commercials but more for his play), he has 334 points since the start of the 2018-19 season to rank 11th in the league. Pasta’s 1.2 points/game over this stretch is tied with no less than Sidney Crosby for 9th in the NHL in this span. Pasta doesn’t seem to get McDavid/Matthews/MacKinnon/Kucherov level praise, but he certainly belongs in the debate as one of the most skilled offensive hockey players in the game today.
—Brad Marchand came back earlier than expected from off-season hip surgery and gives the B’s a boost as only he can. Based on his three-point return, it’s looking like he’s ready to go and pick right back up where he left off.
—Linus Ullmark has been almost unbeatable this year, giving up just 11 goals in seven games and a perfect 6-0-0 record to start the season. If the Vezina was handed out on a monthly basis, it would have gone to Ullmark for October (or maybe Jake Oettinger in Dallas, but that doesn’t make for as good of a game preview).
Head to head
It’s still early in the season, but by any measure you can slice it, it’s clear that Boston will be a huge challenge tonight for the Pens. The Bruins are a top-10 NHL team about across the board and often times ranking even higher than that.
One big difference to this point between the two teams has been the penalty kill. As written yesterday, the Pens’ PK has been problematic and is costing them big time in games with the amount and timeliness of the goals being surrendered.
The Bruins are Pittsburgh’s opposite in this regard. The B’s PK has killed 31 out of 33 total penalties this season, a 93.9% success rate that is good for second in the NHL. Boston has also scored once short-handed, so their net rate of -1 goal all season is just astoundingly good. (The Pens have killed 22/31 at just 71.0% and scored once short-handed for a -8 net of goals, for comparison’s sake).
Other than that, the two teams are similarly and evenly matched as two pretty good squads that usually control possession at 5v5. One other standout item is that new coach Jim Montgomery has continued Boston’s very impressive ways at shot and chance suppression.
For years the secret to the Bruins’ continual regular season success has been excellent team defensive metrics. It’s still very early, but there hasn’t been a drop off this season. Boston has the base to again be considered one of the NHL’s very best teams away from the puck to limit their opposition at shooting and creating chances.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen - Drew O’Connor - Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn - Ryan Poehling - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Jeff Petry
P.O. Joseph / Jan Rutta
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Jeff Carter (injury) Chad Ruhwedel, Sam Poulin
IR: Teddy Blueger (LTIR)
—Kris Letang missed practice with an illness yesterday, hopefully he is ready to go tonight for this game, the Pens will need him and need him to be 100%.
—Drew O’Connor figures to make his regular season NHL debut tonight, with Carter on the shelf in a day-to-day capacity. It could be a short stay in the NHL for O’Connor (and also Sam Poulin) however, as Teddy Blueger is back in a normal jersey in practice, having upgraded from a no contact jersey. Blueger is eligible to return from long term injured reserve this weekend, and at that point due to salary restrictions, Pittsburgh will need to send two low priced forwards down to the AHL (presumably each of O’Connor and Poulin). Still, any opportunity to play in the NHL is a very big one, so hopefully O’Connor will make the most of it and keep his name in the running for the next time the Pens need a young player. Given the bumpy nature of injuries, it likely won’t be very long until someone from Wilkes-Barre is back.