This will be the fourth time in history that the Vegas Golden Knights have played in Pittsburgh, but in some ways this experience will be very new and a first. In the first three visits, by far the over-arching and dominating storyline of Vegas @ Pittsburgh was almost entirely about the return of Marc-Andre Fleury to the city where he was tied to for 14 years, where he was one of the most popular and magnetic figures in franchise history. The actual hockey game and Golden Knights always took a distant second billing to getting the chance to see Fleury in Pittsburgh once again. With Fleury traded to Chicago last off-season, now it’s just another black and gold team coming to Pittsburgh.
Who: Vegas Golden Knights (32-23-4, 68 points, 3rd place Pacfic Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (34-15-9, 77 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, AT&T Sports Rocky Mountains out west, and NHL Network elsewhere in America.
Opponent Track: For the second time this week a team played @BUF one night and then @PIT the next (Florida did it earlier). The Golden Knights fell to the Sabres 3-1 last night, while the Pens were able to relax and prepare at home. Overall Vegas is 3-3-0 in the month of March, and just 4-6-1 in their last 11 games. They’ve also lost in the last few weeks in regulation to both Arizona and Philadelphia, so it’s not really going great right now for VGK.
Pens Path Ahead: This nice period of rest and practice and home games is about to end for Pittsburgh, but not before a really big 1PM Sunday home game against Carolina later this weekend. Then next week the Pens hit the road going to Nashville (Tuesday), St. Louis (Thursday) and Phoenix (next Saturday 3/19).
Hidden Stat: The Golden Knights are a fairly unusual team that is better on the road (16-10-1) then they are at home (16-13-3)...That could be a problem for a Penguin team that has only won two of their last nine home games (2-4-3).
Hidden Stat Part II: The Penguins have points in 18 of 23 games against Western Conference opponents this season (13-5-5), h/t Pens PR.
Season Series: The Pens scored five straight goals to win 5-3 in Vegas back on January 17th. This is the second and final PIT/VGK game of the season.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Check out Knights on Ice for the news to know about the Golden Knights.
(note: does not include last night’s game)
—For a still fairly new team, it’s really wild how fast that Vegas has gotten old. They have made several bold moves via trades and free agency to grab very high-end players like Eichel, Pietrangelo, Pacioretty, Stone. Las Vegas is a town of attractions and the hockey team has wasted no time being very aggressive to add all sorts of big names and players to the team.
—Health has been an issue though, with Eichel just recently coming back from surgery and Pacioretty and Stone missing a ton of time too this season. And you can add Reilly Smith, Brayden McNabb and Robin Lehner to the current injury list now of important contributors who are unavailable.
—Perhaps no player embodies the magic and spirit of the Golden Knights as much as William Karlsson. In the inaugural 2017-18 season, the former Blue Jacket put up 43 goals and 78 points and emerged as a tremendous player, after looking not much more than being a “guy on the team” with CBJ. But Karlsson’s goals and points have both fallen incrementally in each and every season since then. He’s still only 29 years old, and signed for five more seasons after this on at a $5.9 million rate, so he’ll have to be a big part of the plans moving forward. It will be interesting to see if he’s more than a flash in the pan. It doesn’t look dis-similar from what Evan Rodrigues did in the first 25-30 games of the season and then faded away, except Karlsson did it for a full year.
Last Night’s Game Lines
Max Pacioretty - Jack Eichel - Jonathan Marchessault
Michael Amadio - William Karlsson - Evgenii Dadonov
William Carrier - Chandler Stephenson - Nic Roy
Jonas Rondbjerg - Jake Leschyshyn - Keegan Kolesar
Nic Hague / Alex Pietrangelo
Shea Theodore / Zach Whitecloud
Ben Hutton / Dylan Coghlan
Goalies: Logan Thompson? (Laurent Brossoit started last night)
Scratches: Robin Lehner (injured), Reilly Smith (injured), Brett Howden, Daniil Miromanov
IR: Mark Stone, Alec Martinez, Jake Bischoff, Mattias Janmark, Brayden McNabb
—The Golden Knights are...kind of a mess right now. The most pressing issue could be in goal, where Robin Lehner has been sent back to Las Vegas for medical attention where if I read this correctly he has a lower body issue and also a shoulder problem. It doesn’t sound very good, at the moment at least. Typical backup goalie Brossoit played in Buffalo last night, which I assume opens the door for Thompson, 25, to play in just his fourth career NHL game tonight. Thompson was in the ECHL only as recently as 2019-20, but spent the last two seasons mostly in the AHL.
—On defense, McNabb and Martinez are on the shelf, which presents a situation where 5/7 of the current healthy defenders on the roster make under a million dollars. Reilly Smith is also out hurt right now, leaving a hole in the top-six, to go along with captain Mark Stone who was in and out of the lineup with an injury four times before being shutdown and LTIR’d to open up more cap space.
Advanced stats matchup
This is year five for Vegas, and oddly enough in some way it might be their weakest team to date. The vibes have just not seemed right since trading away Fleury for nothing. Then also later adding Jack Eichel and basically punting on “figuring it out later” for other details on how to set their roster and salary cap situation after doing the hard part of getting a franchise center. They have a few good forwards and defenders, and are still a decent and formidable NHL team, but a lot of times the pieces look disjointed and haven’t quite come together.
Which is odd and ironic since instant chemistry was the hallmark of the initial “Golden Misfits” expansion team that almost went all the way in an improbable but not fluky run to the Stanley Cup Final in their very first season. They were very good then and in several years since (last year they were just six wins from the Cup as well, before getting goalie’d by Carey Price).
And, to show just how fast and furious roster movement can be, only four players selected in the expansion draft almost five years ago (Karlsson, William Carrier, Jonathan Marchessault, Brayden McNabb) remain with the team. (Others,like Reilly Smith and Shea Theodore, were acquired in trades at the expansion draft and weren’t officially drafted choices).
And now for the Pens..
Thursday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Evan Rodrigues
Dominik Simon - Jeff Carter - Brock McGinn
Brian Boyle - Teddy Blueger - Zach Aston-Reese
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mark Friedman / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Kasperi Kapanen, Pierre-Olivier Joseph
IR: Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Mike Matheson
—The lines have been shaken up a little for the Pens, it could be Kapanen in where Aston-Reese is, but considering he got dropped from the power play it looks like a night off for Kapanen.
—The Pens also called up Wilkes-Barre’s leading scorer Valtteri Puustinen yesterday. This is a good call, Pittsburgh badly needs a forward other than Crosby, Guentzel, Rust and Malkin to score. Puustinen has the skill to potentially add that. He’s been called up and scratched before, so it’s no guarantee that he will play, but for a team desperate and searching for some kind of spark, it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to give Puustinen a chance. Will they do it without a practice to get him ready? That isn’t Sullivan’s style, and throwing him in against Carolina on Sunday doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense either. So, I don’t know what to make about this call-up, but it is definitely intriguing to at least have Puustinen with the team. Hopefully he is still with them when they go west next week and gets a chance to play at some point.
Pens fans: need more secondary scoring options, what about trying Zohorna or O’Connor?— PensBurgh (@Pensburgh) March 10, 2022
Milestone and streak watch
- Evgeni Malkin has 694 career assists, two shy of tying Sergei Fedorov (696) for most NHL assists ever for a Russian player.
- Sidney Crosby has had three straight multi-point games. If Crosby has two more points tonight, it would mark the first time he’s had multiple points in four-consecutive games since Oct. 10-16, 2019 (4GP, 3G-5A), shoutout to the Pens PR department for that nugget.
- Crosby also has a goal in four straight games, and a current seven-game point streak (5G+5A).
- Crosby has 19 goals, one away from the 14th 20 goal season of his career.
- Jake Guentzel (28) is two goals away from the 30 goal mark. Guentzel would become the 23rd player in team history to have two or more 30 goal seasons with the team, and would be just the third player since 2005-06 to accomplish this feat (Crosby, 9 times; Malkin, 6).
- Guentzel has points in four straight games (3G+3A).
- Bryan Rust (19) is one goal away from reaching the 20 goal mark for the third time in his career (and the third consecutive season).
- If he does play tonight, it would be career game No. 300 for Kasperi Kapanen.