Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-4, 40 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division) @ Carolina Hurricanes (18-6-6, 42 points, 2nd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 5:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sports Network Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) for the Western PA market, Bally Sports South for the home team, Sling TV, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Carolina has gotten back on track in December, going 6-0-1 so far this month. This scheduling is pretty tough for them, they played home last night against Dallas while the Pens were resting. It was the Hurricanes’ fourth straight win — despite blowing a 4-2 third period lead, Martin Necas scored in OT to secure the victory.
Pens Path Ahead: The Pens have two home games next week on Tuesday (Rangers) and Thursday (where they’ll see these Hurricanes again) and then Pittsburgh enjoys a four-day Christmas break and are inactive from December 23-26.
Season Series: These teams met a few weeks ago on November 29th, with Carolina taking a controversial overtime win after Bryan Rust was given a hit from behind - leading to a breakaway goal to end the game. As mentioned above, there are two PIT/CAR games in five days with the teams playing tonight in Raleigh and then Thursday night in Pittsburgh. These two will meet for a fourth and final time in the regular season not too long after, on Saturday January 14th, back in Carolina.
Hidden Stat: Despite largely being in the same division, the Pens and Hurricanes have only played each other five times since the start of the 2019-20 season (due in part to Carolina being moved to the Central division in the COVID 2020-21 season). Pittsburgh has only defeated Carolina once in this stretch, going 1-2-2 overall.
Hidden Stat II: In the early days of Mike Sullivan (2015/16 -2017/18), Pittsburgh went 9-3-1 against Carolina. Since Rod Brind’Amour has taken over as Canes head coach (starting in the 2018-19 season) the Pens are just 3-3-3 overall against Carolina.
Getting to know the Hurricanes
SB Nation counterpart: Canes Country
Andrei Svechnikov - Paul Stastny - Martin Necas
Teuvo Teravainen - Jesper Kotkaniemi - Seth Jarvis
Jordan Martinook - Jordan Staal - Jesper Fast
Derek Stepan - Jack Drury - Stefan Noesen
Jaccob Slavin / Brent Burns
Brady Skjei / Brett Pesce
Calvin de Haan / Jalen Chatfield
Goalies: Pyotr Kochetkov (Antti Raanta played last night)
Scratches: Sebastien Aho (injury), Dylan Coghlan (conditioning stint in AHL),
IR: Frederik Andersen, Ondrej Kase, Max Pacioretty, Jake Gardiner
—On Friday, Brind’Amour ruled out for the weekend. It’s a massive loss for a Carolina team that isn’t very talented even with a true difference-maker in Aho...The Hurricanes are pretty banged up with Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Martinook and goalie Pyotr Kochetkov also absent from practice on Friday, with Kochetkov getting a breather after playing seven straight games before getting a rest last night. Svechnikov and Martinook were able to play last night
—Pacioretty and Kase have been skating, but in no contact jerseys and are not close to playing...Similarly, Andersen is not expected to dress tonight as he works back from injury.
—Former Penguin Stefan Noesen scored on a penalty shot on Thursday night, and added another goal last night. His line has been relatively hot, with the veteran Derek Stepan chipping in for his first goal of the season on Thursday as well. With Aho out, Carolina needs that kind of “all hands on deck” type of output from unlikely heroes in order to win.
—Kochetkov got the win against the Pens a few weeks ago, stopping 30/32.
—Carolina is a very solid team with a great shot-based process, excellent defensive structure and gets instructions from if not best-in-class NHL coaching, it’s damn close. But their fourth leading forward scorer in goals is Jordan Martinook. Stefan Noesen is playing a key role. They will get a skill boost whenever Max Pacioretty recovers from off-season surgery, but this is not an impressive team on paper for talent or skill.
—Tough year so far for Teuvo Teravainen. The forward scored 65 points last year and isn’t going to come anywhere close to that this season, scoring only his first goal of the season last night. Teravainen missed a few weeks with an undisclosed upper body injury, and only had 0G+1A in five games since returning from that injury on December 3rd before notching that goal and adding an assist last night.
—Eyebrows were more than raised when Carolina extended youngster Pyotr Kochetkov to a four year, $8 million (total) contract extension despite only playing a handful of NHL games. (Kochetkov currently only has 16 NHL games under his belt at press time). But that early faith has been rewarded so far, Kochetkov looks like a very promising and talented goalie. Carolina drafted him high (36th overall in 2019) and clearly thinks he’s a part of the future, so we’ll see how that decision to invest in him goes. Goaltending performance can be illogical, so I guess it’s only fitting that NHL contracts for unproven goalies is starting to get that way too.
—Kochetkov’s strong performance has led some to believe Carolina won’t opt to send him to the AHL once their other goalies are healthy. They will have the awkward setup of three goalies on a roster, unless they work out a trade to send away one of their veteran NHL goalies.
Head to head
—Always got to pack a lunch for Carolina games, they are tops in the NHL right now in Corsi For AND Corsi Against. They will own the puck for the most part and volume shoot until the cows come home. Luckily for opponents, talent level and offensive performance is down (see again: Martinook, Jordan being fourth leading forward scorer), so their territorial dominance has not resulted in a ton of runaway victories. But they’re damn tough to beat when they’re on their game and going to make earning every inch a battle while sealing off the boards.
—Carolina excels at preventing chances in all forms: off the rush, cycle, rebounds, forecheck. You name it, they are God tier in the NHL at taking it away. But without Aho, they only have Jordan Staal who can’t match against both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That temporarily weakened matchup will be critical for the Pens to exploit down the middle.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Ryan Poehling - Teddy Blueger - Josh Archibald
Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin / Jan Rutta
P.O. Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Drew O’Connor, Mark Friedman, Jason Zucker (week-to-week injury)
IR: Jeff Petry (upper body, LTIR, out until at least January 8th)
—It was a fun week for the Penguins, who after winning in Florida on Thursday, got a day off Friday in Miami before a delayed Saturday flight to Raleigh. The team took a practice yesterday and luckily Evgeni Malkin participated in full capacity and looks good to go after taking a puck to the leg on Thursday.