Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (33-14-8, 74 points, 2nd place Metropolitan Division) @ Tampa Bay Lightning (35-11-6, 76 points, 1st 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, Bally Sports Sun down south, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Lightning are riding a five-game winning streak, defeating Ottawa at home 5-2 on Tuesday night in their last game. Tampa has only lost two games in regulation since January 9th, giving them a 12-2-1 record in their last 15 games. They also haven’t tasted defeat since falling 3-2 in Colorado back on February 10th and are, perhaps somewhat quietly (?), starting to roar down the stretch of the NHL season.
Pens Path Ahead: Tonight starts a back-to-back, the Pens will head up to Raleigh for a game tomorrow against the Hurricanes. That’s a tough 24 hours! Then it’s a rare weekend off for Pittsburgh, who will go back home and prepare for a three-game homestand next week that starts with hosting Florida on Tuesday March 8th. The March schedule, particularly in the first half of the month, is super, super challenging with just one great team coming up after another for the Pens over the next few weeks.
Hidden Stat: This year, the Penguins are 9-3-2 in back-to-back games (5-1-1 on the first night; 4-2-1 the second night), h/t Pens PR.
Season Series: This will be the rubber match PIT/TB regular season game, with each team 1-1-0 vs the other. The teams met on opening night, the Pens watched the banner get raised and then dominated the 2x defending champs with a 6-2 win (aided by empty net goals) on October 12th. Six different Pens scored goals and 12 recorded a point in a game that Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin all did not play....Tampa returned the favor in Pittsburgh on October 26th, flipping the script and winning 5-1 (with two ENG in there) and five different Lightning players scoring.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Check out Raw Charge for the news to know about the Lightning.
—Tampa remains a formidable team with all their stars doing their part. Five players have 15+ goals.
—Health has been an issue with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point missing significant time. But when they’ve played, they’ve been good, Kucherov has 11 multi-point games in the 17 he’s dressed for this season. Point had 1G+3A in the 5-2 win on Tuesday.
—After being in single digits for goals in the last three seasons on three different teams, it’s been a nice late-career renaissance for Corey Perry with 15 tallies already this season, including his recent 400th goal. Tampa lost a lot of good depth forwards due to cap reasons/expansion last off-season (Tyler Johnson, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde), the play and production of Perry has been a big boost for them.
—Alex Killorn has always been a quietly consistent scorer, and he’s found a new gear in point production this season. His career-high in single season points is 49, he looks likely to shatter that this season. All nine of his full NHL seasons he’s been right there in the 40-something point range just about every single year.
Tuesday Game Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Mathieu Joseph
Pat Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Ross Colton - Anthony Cirelli - Taylor Raddysh
Victor Hedman / Mikhail Sergachev
Ryan McDonagh / Erik Cernak
Jan Rutta / Cal Foote
Goalies: Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott
Scratches: Boris Katchouk, Andrej Sustr
IR: Brent Seabrook (unofficially retired), Zach Bogosian
—Right now is about as healthy as Tampa has been at the same time this season, and the good times have been rolling on their five-game winning streak that has seen them out-score opponents 23-13 in total along the way. Always daunting to roll up on a team that is averaging almost 5 goals per game over the past few weeks..
—Starts might be an issue, or open as much of a chance as Tampa gives these days. Vasilevskiy allowed two goals on the very first two Ottawa shots he saw on Tuesday, but then recovered to stop all of the next 25. In CY2022, the Lightning have scored 22 goals and given up 22 goals in the first period of games to only stay even. As the game goes on, they have generally gotten stronger with a +8 goal differential in the second periods (22-14). Tampa then really turns it on and dominates the third with a +16 goal differential (29-13). The Penguins do not seem well-positioned to take advantage of this, since their first period offense has been so anemic, but this could be an opportunity to get off to a better start. Both teams have been similar with slow starts and improving as the game goes along.
Big time battle
By any metric, these are two of the top teams in the East and entire NHL that will be colliding tonight.
Tampa is likely to see their power play and 5v5 offensive success tip upwards now at full health. Their goaltending is only OK, due mostly to the non-Vasilevskiy inputs and that problem will be solved by just playing Vasilevskiy in the important games.
And now for the Pens..
Wednesday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Evan Rodrigues
Zach Aston-Reese - Brian Boyle - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mark Friedman / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Kasper Bjorkqvist
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Louis Domingue, Teddy Blueger (broken jaw)
—The Penguins practiced yesterday in Cranberry before heading out on the road with all expected players accounted for and in the same lines/pairs as they have been using lately in their own two-game winning streak.
Milestone and streak watch
- Bryan Rust (18) is two goals away this season from having his third-straight 20+ goal season.
- With his goal in the third period against Columbus on Sunday, Sidney Crosby (1,375) passed Mike Modano (1,374) for 25th place in the NHL’s all-time scoring list. Up next for Sid is the moving target of Alex Ovechkin (1,384), so he might not pass another player until the two current stars get up to the level of Brett Hull (1,391).
- Crosby’s goal vs CBJ counted as the game winner, the 74th of his career to tie the one and only Mario Lemieux for third on the Pens’ all-time franchise list. (Evgeni Malkin recently scored his 75th career GWG and is in second place. Jaromir Jagr remains in first with 78).