Who: Pittsburgh Penguns (40-18-10, 90 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division) @ Minnesota Wild (40-21-4, 86 points, 2nd place Central Division)
When: 8:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, Bally Sports North and Bally Sports Wisconsin up north, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Wild are the hottest team in the NHL, owning a league-high current seven game winning streak. They’re also a league best 9-1-1 since March 8th, with recent wins over teams like Boston, Vegas, Colorado and a 4-1 victory in their last game on Tuesday night against the Flyers (which isn’t saying much since everyone beats the Flyers but just to document the last Wild game).
Pens Path Ahead: Looking ahead, it will be finally time to see Colorado, with a game in Denver on Saturday afternoon and then back in Pittsburgh against the Avs next Tuesday. Then the Pens will shift back to their division rivals with games against the NY Rangers and Washington also on tap to close out next week.
Hidden Stat: The Pens are 5-0-1 in their last six games against Minnesota (and 9-3-1 in the last 13).
Trivia Question: With nine goals this season, Mike Matheson is looking to become the sixth different Penguin blueliner in the Sidney Crosby era to crack double digits. Name the other five!
Season Series: This will wrap up the PIT/MIN season series, Minnesota won the first game, way back on November 6th in a 5-4 shootout. This is also one of the last “I can’t believe how long it’s been games” — Pittsburgh’s last game in Minnesota was way back in October 2019, almost two and a half years ago. Jason Zucker (seen in the picture above) still was with the Wild.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Hockey Wilderness
—It was a bit acrimonious to get Kaprizov signed, but eventually he inked the richest deal in Wild history and so far has been worth every penny. Kaprizov sits in the top-10 in goals (t-8th) and points (t-7th) in the league right now.
—Frederick Gaudreau got his career back on track in Pittsburgh last season (where he was really signed as minor league depth before injuries opened up an opportunity to play in the NHL). He signed away as a free agent last summer to Minnesota, and has continued to build upon his success with a nice season of 31 points so far, which is by far a career-high. Really nice mid-career bump for him after his NHL days looked about over by 2020 to become a staple in the lineup for a playoff team.
—Fleury has gotten off to a great start with the Wild, only surrendering three total goals in two games en route to a .948 save% and two wins in his first two appearances wearing green. The competition might bring out the best in Cam Talbot too: he’s 3-0-0 since the trade deadline, only allowing four total goals, notching a shutout and a .959 save% recently.
Tuesday Game Lines
Kirill Kaprizov - Ryan Hartman - Mats Zuccarello
Kevin Fiala - Frederick Gaudreau - Matt Boldy
Jordan Greenway - Jordan Erikson-Ek - Marcus Foligno
Nicolas Deslauriers - Tyson Jost - Brandon Duhaime
Jacob Middleton / Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin / Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill / Dmitry Kulikov
Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot
Scratches and IR: Alex Goligoski, Jordie Benn, Connor Dewar, Nick Bjugstad
—The CapFriendly and team site’s IR didn’t look like it was working well yesterday, so we’ll smash it together.
—Fans of the old buzzsaw will probably appreciate the Minnesota third line. They are a great energy/checking line that is known for their defensive play.
Advanced stats matchup
It’s crazy (err, wild even) that Minnesota is now one of the “most fun” teams in hockey after years and years of being so dull and neutral zone trap oriented. But the label now sticks and MIN is one of the more fun watches around the league with their play. Their expected goals is middle of the pack, but their finishing boosts the actual goals for to #2. Then on the flip side of things, they’re not expected to give up many goals, but subpar goaltending allows way more than expected. Thus, lots of goals in Minnesota games this season.
With that in mind, you can see why Bill Guerin wanted to bring in Fleury. With a little increase in performance from the goalie position (and presumably on the PK with the goalie being the most important PKer and all), Minnesota could easily be one of the very top teams in a wide open West come playoff time.
And now for the Pens..
Wednesday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Evan Rodrigues - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Brian Boyle - Teddy Blueger - Danton Heinen
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / John Marino
Mark Friedman / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Marcus Pettersson, Radim Zohorna, Brock McGinn (week-to-week, upper body)
IR: Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Nathan Beaulieu
—Zucker is growing increasingly close to getting back in the lineup, which looks like it will happen tonight against his former team. McGinn doesn’t look too far behind, getting back on the ice himself lately.
—Jarry ranks sixth in starts across the NHL, and fourth in total appearances. For an out of conference game will the Pens keep riding him or go to DeSmith for this one? With very busy times and important games ahead, goalie management and strategy will be a question that coach Mike Sullivan will need to consider.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby surpassed Luc Robitaille (1,394) for 23rd place in all-time NHL scoring with his goal against the Rangers. Next up on Sid’s list is Jari Kurri (1,398).
- Another milestone accomplished was Evgeni Malkin overtaking Sergei Fedorov for most assists by a Russian player in the NHL.
- Overall at 697 career assists, Malkin will be looking to join the 700 helper club soon.
- Bryan Rust (55) is one point away from tying his career-high in single season points. He has gotten close it in only 46 games so far this season.
- Kris Letang (51) tied his personal best in most assists in a season (also had 51 in 2015-16). Letang has five assists over just the last two games.
- Letang has 58 points, and is seeking his second career 60 point season (career high 67 in 2015-16).
- Letang (499) is closing in on the 500 career assist milestone as well.
- Jeff Carter remains at 799 career points, one more will make him the seventh member of the star-studded 2003 draft class to get to 800 (E. Staal, Getzlaf, Bergeron, Pavelski, Perry, Parise).
- Brian Boyle has goals in two straight games, and at nine goals for the season is looking to get into double digits for the seventh time in his 12 full seasons in the NHL (last accomplished in 2018-19).
Trivia answer: Which five other players would Matheson join as double-digit defensemen goal scorers in a season in Pittsburgh since 2005-06? Two are layups: Kris Letang has done it 7 times (and possibly an eighth is coming this season if he scores three more goals) and Sergei Gonchar (4x). Also Ryan Whitney (2x), with Justin Schultz and Matt Niskanen accomplishing it once as the trickier answers.