Who: Vegas Golden Knights (17-6-1, 35 points, 1st place Pacific Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (11-8-4, 26 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sports Network Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) for the home team, AT&T Sports Network Rocky Mountains (ATTSN-RM) for the visitors, Sling TV, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Golden Knights have taken up a residency of their own (Las Vegas joke) lately in Pittsburgh. After playing in Columbus on Monday, a 3-2 Vegas shootout win, the Knights flew into town very early Tuesday and have been hanging out ever since for almost three days now. Overall, for a first place team, Vegas has only been just OK lately with only a 4-4-1 record since November 12th, and those wins coming over not very impressive teams (AZ, OTT, VAN, CBJ).
Pens Path Ahead: The home-stand continues on Saturday when the Blues come to town (hopefully only literally). Then the Pens will have a few days off and welcome the Blue Jackets next Tuesday 12/6, before playing a good old fashioned home-and-home in Buffalo on December 9th and back in Pittsburgh on Saturday December 10th.
Season Series: Right after the Winter Classic in Boston, the Pens fly out to Vegas to play in Sin City on Thursday January 5th.
Getting to know the Golden Knights
SB Nation counterpart: Knights On Ice
Chandler Stephenson — Jack Eichel — Mark Stone
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Jonathan Marchessault
Paul Cotter — Nicolas Roy —Phil ‘the Thrill’ Kessel
William Carrier — Jake Leschyshyn — Keegan Kolesar
Ben Hutton / Alec Martinez
Brayden McNabb / Shea Theodore
Nic Hague / Zach Whitecloud
Goalies: Logan Thompson (Adin Hill)
Scratches: Alex Pietrangelo (personal reasons), Michael Amadio, Brett Howden
IR: Shea Weber, Robin Lehner, Nolan Patrick
—Pietrangelo missed Monday’s game due to personal reasons and is still in Vegas and won’t be playing tonight. Last game out, they plugged in Hutton as a replacement and kept the other pairs the same.
—In “who is this guy” territory, keep an eye out for No. 43 Paul Cotter. The 23-year old former fourth round pick of Vegas has slowly been climbing up the ranks of pro hockey, graduating to the NHL this season. He has good size at 6’2, 210 pounds and showed off some great hands on this shootout winning move on Monday night. He isn’t going to play a ton or have dynamic skill to jump out and alter the game, but his confidence has to be up at the moment after a move like that.
—On the surface, this doesn’t scream ‘first place team stat sheet’, even though it has some positive signs. Jack Eichel and Mark Stone look healed up from injuries/surgeries from last year. There’s a solid core of solid, very good forwards (Stephenson, Marchessault, Smith, Karlsson) to support them. Theodore and Pietrangelo are skilled puck moving defenders.
—In net, the emergence of Thompson has been a massive development. With Robin Lehner lost for the season due to injury, it’s been the undrafted 25-year old Thompson who has turned heads. He was mostly an ECHL goalie up until 2020, when Vegas signed him to his first NHL contract. He played 19 NHL games last year due to the various goalie injuries, and looked good, and the Knights decided to go with him as their primary goalie this season after the news on Lehner broke. So far, that’s paid off in spades.
—It was nice to see Kessel stick around and break the NHL’s iron man record earlier this season, but the 35-year old is really slowing down. He’s only averaging 12:43 in ice time per game this season, and is more a Vegas novelty act at this point of his run. From Doug Jarvis to Keith Yandle, history tells us long iron man streaks typically end not with injury but with a difficult coaching decision to scratch a fading veteran. That could be Kessel’s future at some point, but he has already pushed the streak up to 1,006 - making him the only player in league history to get to a four-digit consecutive games played streak.
Return of the Jack
Even though the two transactions weren’t 1-to-1 related, it’s very simple draw a straight line to show how the Golden Knights have dramatically changed and already for such a new franchise have two defined eras. From 2017-21 will be the “Marc-Andre Fleury” days, and 2021-present will be the “Jack Eichel era” for perhaps the next decade. Their coaching changes from Peter DeBoer to Bruce Cassidy also feeds into just how dramatically the makeup and DNA of this team has shifted.
This summer Bruce Cassidy challenged Jack Eichel to take his game to another level.— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) November 28, 2022
Eichel answered the challenge.
Not only is he producing more than a point per game, he’s been one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL.
Eichel only recently turned 26 and has proven that he could return from his neck surgery to play hockey at a very high level again based on how it’s gone this season. He feels like a forgotten star at this point, due to being off the radar now, but it’s tough to imagine there are too many more driven or focused players these days so desperate to make their mark.
The Western Conference looks fairly wide open this year (though surely the defending champion Colorado Avalanche will be the team to beat), at this rate the stage is set for Eichel to have his chance for a moment to put a team on his back and prove to the world he has what it takes to get on the map as one of the very best players in the game, much like Nathan MacKinnon did last spring.
These teams have been very similar in styles and strengths so far this season. Both are excellent at 5v5 in terms of process with plenty of top-10 rankings in goals for, expected goals, goals against and expected goals against. Both have had disappointing power plays, and middle-of-the-road goaltending outputs. Vegas has a weaker penalty kill, which stands out.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Ryan Poehling - Teddy Blueger - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Jeff Petry
Marcus Pettersson / Jan Rutta
P.O. Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Kris Letang (stroke), Danton Heinen
—After the shocking news yesterday of Kris Letang’s recent stroke, the Pens’ defense could be in disarray for quite some time. It still feels too early to focus on hockey and not a human being’s health, but if Letang is moved to long-term IR he will be out for at least 10 games and that will open up salary space to recall a replacement like Mark Friedman or Ty Smith. We’ll see if or when that happens, but for now the shock of seeing a relatively young person deal with a second stroke in their life means more for off the ice. The Pens only have six healthy defensemen at the moment, so presumably they will be wanting an extra player there at some point.
—Could this be a Jeff Carter kind of night? Carter has 13 points (8G+5A) in 18 games all-time against Vegas. While as a member of the Penguins, Carter has four points (1G+3A) in just two games against the Knights.
—Jason Zucker has only played one game with the Pens against his home town team, and scored two goals last year in Vegas. We’ll see if he can carry over any extra juice in Pittsburgh.