Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (28-11-8, 64 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division) @ Ottawa Senators (16-22-4, 36 points, 6th place Atlantic Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, TSN5 and RDS in Canada, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Somewhat quietly, Ottawa has been a good team over the last two months. The Sens are 12-7-3 in their last 22 games since December 2nd (which is a full-season pace of 101 points). They have averaged scoring 3.14 goals/game (12th in NHL) in this stretch. A terrible start in October+November doomed any playoff hopes for this year, but this is not a team to see their place in the standings and take lightly or assume it will be an easy game, because it will not be as simple as it looks at first glance. The Sens have won their first two games out of the All-Star break, beating NJ 4-1 on Monday and then taking a 4-0 lead on Carolina on Tuesday and holding on for a 4-3 regulation win. This will be their third game in four days, which could be a situational negative — but then again the average age of the skaters in the lineup is 25.7, so they may be too young to be too tired.
Pens Path Ahead: One more more road game on the trip after this, in the form of a game in New Jersey on Sunday afternoon. The Pens are then back in Pittsburgh next Tuesday to host the Flyers, before crossing the border one final time this season to play in Toronto a week from today. This game and the next two are rare non-playoff opponents for the Pens in the days and weeks to come..
Hidden Stat: Danton Heinen has been a road warrior for the Pens this season. Heinen has eight points (5G+3A) in his last seven road games. Overall, nine of his 11 goals this season have come away from PPG Paints Arena. (h/t Pens PR)
Trivia Question: Sidney Crosby has 49 career points in 42 games against Ottawa. With one more point, it will be the 14th NHL team Crosby has recorded 50+ points against. How many of the 13 can you name? (Might want to jot some down!)
Season Series: This is the third and final PIT/OTT game of the season, and a rubber match. Ottawa took round 1 at home against the Pens in a 6-3 decision back on November 13th. Pittsburgh repaid the favor with a 6-4 home win of their own a few weeks ago on January 20th.
SBN Counterpart Blog: It’s Silver Seven Sens for all the news and notes and to get up to date on the Senators.
—The roller-coaster known as Matt Murray’s career has taken a sudden, dramatic and perhaps most unexpected rise in the past month. After being waived, going unclaimed with his hefty contract and sent to Belleville for his first AHL games since the 2015-16 season, Murray has shined back in the NHL. His first game back in the National on Jan 1 against Toronto didn’t look promising; Murray gave up six goals in 40 shots in a 6-0 Ottawa loss. But since then, he is 5-0-2 with a .944 save%, 1.82 GAA and a shutout in easily his best stretch with the Sens.
—But, tonight may not be the first time Murray plays against the Penguins after all. Anton Forsberg stopped 42 of 45 shots in Ottawa’s win over Carolina on Tuesday and isn’t playing bad hockey himself right now.
Tuesday Game Lines
Brady Tkachuk - Tim Stutzle - Adam Gaudette
Alex Formenton - Nick Paul - Connor Brown
Zach Sanford - Dylan Gambrell - Austin Watson
Chris Tierney - Mark Kastelic - Tyler Ennis
Thomas Chabot / Nikita Zaitsev
Nick Holden / Artem Zub
Erik Brannstrom / Josh Brown
Goalies: Matt Murray and Anton Forsberg
Scratches: Victor Mete, Kelly Parker, Clark Bishop
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Colin White, Shane Pinto, Scott Sabourin
—The lines are a bit different from the Pens/Sens games a couple weeks ago, with the major difference being that Norris and Batherson are now on the IR. That’s a big loss of talent and has also resulted in the elevation of Tim Stutzle to the top line with Tkachuk.
—It’s always a marvel about just how much defenseman Thomas Chabot will play in a game. The 25-year old is tops in the NHL with a 26:58 average this season, on pace for a career-high (he has played 26:00+ minutes per game in going on each of the last three seasons). Chabot logged 29:44 in the recent Jan. 20th game against the Pens, and that wasn’t even an overtime game! Having one great defender who can almost literally play half a game has been a huge help to mask some of the depth issues lower in the lineup.
Sens starting to show progress against top teams..
The Hurricanes have been one of the top teams in the league this year, but not against the little ol’ Senators. Ottawa competed well and took a 2-0-1 season record over Carolina. The Sens will surely use the confidence gained from beating a top team when playing against the favored Pens tonight.
And if the Sens get the W tonight, they’ll take another season-series against an elite Eastern team with a 2-1-0 record against Pittsburgh in 2021-22 too. All of this starts building a bit of tangible progress as they attempt to build their team back. From Senators.com regarding the win earlier this week:
The Hurricanes, who have the fourth most points in the NHL this season, have lost just 10 times in regulation this season.
The Senators have contributed to 20 per cent of that number.
With Tuesday’s win, the Sens concluded its season series with the Canes with a 2-0-1 record as they collected five of a possible six points.
“The message in our room is that’s the kind of team we want to emulate,” Tkachuk said. “They have so much skill and great players but the number one thing is they work. Top to bottom, they work.
“They’re a Stanley Cup contender for a reason and that’s a team down the road we want to be like.”
And now for the Pens..
Wednesday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen - Evan Rodrigues - Radim Zohorna
Zach Aston-Reese - Brian Boyle - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Valtteri Puustinen, Michael Chaput
COVID Protocol: Evgeni Malkin
IR: Drew O’Connor (practicing in non-contact jersey), Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Louis Domingue, Teddy Blueger (week-to-week, broken jaw)
—The Pens practiced in Boston yesterday before departing to cross the Canadian border. The lines were the same as the win on Tuesday night, with all players coming through the game unphased and Bryan Rust on the ice and sporting a new dental look after getting some damage in the game.
—Evgeni Malkin is about ready to clear COVID protocol after a negative test, but isn’t allowed to cross the border. The Pens expect Malkin to possibly/probably be back in the lineup in the team’s following game on Sunday in New Jersey. For today, he remains officially on the NHL’s COVID list and not apart of the 23-player roster, but it sounds like soon one or both of Chaput/Puustinen will be making the trip east back to Wilkes.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby’s next goal will be number 500! The max capacity for a crowd in Ottawa tonight is also I believe 500 people, so maybe if you’re a numerologist that looks like it could be a sign, no?
- Crosby’s GWG on Tuesday against Boston was his 73rd career game winning goal. That places him just one behind Evgeni Malkin and Mario Lemieux (74 a piece) for second place in the franchise list for career winners. Jaromir Jagr at 78 GWG remains out in front.
- Jake Guentzel is currently up to a four-game point streak (2G+4A).
Trivia answer: For Crosby 50+ career points against 13 NHL teams, it’s pretty easy if you start with the division foes he has played the most. There’s the Islanders, (personal-high 123 points against one team), Flyers (117), Rangers (96), Devils (84), Capitals (84), Hurricanes (53) and that’s six right off the bat. Expand to the East with Buffalo (75), Boston (65), Toronto (63), Montreal (58), Florida (56), Tampa (54) and that makes 12. The 13th? A bit tricky with the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise at 57 points (they used to tear up the Thrashers back in the day and Winnipeg absorbed the franchise history).
The only Eastern teams Crosby isn’t close to 50 are the ones he’s played 31 times or less since they used to be in the West (Columbus, Detroit). Ottawa is the lone full-time Eastern team he’s still awaiting his 50th point. Could point 50 against the Sens also be career goal 500?