Who: Edmonton Oilers (46-27-6, 98 points, 2nd place Pacific Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (45-24-11, 101 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: Nationally televised game on ESPN
Opponent Track: The Oilers were rolling along, going 8-1-1 in the month of April and riding a four-game winning streak into Columbus on Sunday. They hit troubles in the third period, giving up four unanswered goals and a 2-1 lead turned into a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Blue Jackets.
Pens Path Ahead: Only one more game to go on the schedule after this, on Friday the Blue Jackets come to Pittsburgh to close out the regular season. Then the Pens will be traveling somewhere early next week for Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but it is still to be determined if their charter will be heading east to New York or south towards Miami or Raleigh.
Season Series: Edmonton won by a 5-2 score against the Pens back on December 1st in the earlier meeting of the series. Connor McDavid had four points (1G+3A) in that game.
Hidden Stat: This is the last “it’s been a really long time” game for the Penguins..The last time the Oilers were in town was November 2nd, 2019, over two and a half years ago!
SBN Counterpart Blog: Copper n Blue
—The greatness of Connor McDavid continues to amaze. Now in his seventh NHL season, he’s set personal bests in goals and points on a season already, and one more assist will set a new record there too. McDavid enters the day three points up on Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau in the Art Ross race, which would be his fourth career scoring title.
—McDavid is also two points away from tying Sidney Crosby’s best season ever (120 points, in 2006-07). He has an outside chance at the best point season ever in the salary cap era (Nikita Kucherov’s 128 in 2018-19).
—Not to be too far out-done, Draisaitl is just casually working on a 55G+53A season, somewhat under the radar. McDavid has assisted on 24 Draisaitl goals, making them a great 1-2 punch, but don’t confuse that with Drasaitl being reliant on McDavid to be able to produce offense.
—In probably his last chance to redeem himself professionally, Evander Kane has been able to keep his head down and play really well for half a season since signing as a free agent after San Jose terminated his contract. Kane’s 21 goals rank fourth on the team.
Sunday Game Lines
Evander Kane - Connor McDavid - Zack Kassian
Zach Hyman - Leon Draisaitl - Kailer Yamamoto
Warren Foegele - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Derek Ryan
Devin Shore - Ryan McLeod - Derrick Brassard
Brett Kulak / Tyson Barrie
Kris Russell / Cody Ceci
Duncan Keith / Evan Bouchard
Goalies: Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith
Scratches: Darnell Nurse (injured, day-to-day), Jesse Puljujarvi (non-COVID illness)
IR: Oskar Klefbom (LTIR), Kyle Turris (LTIR)
—This won’t be a full Edmonton team, with Puljujarvi and Nurse not on the quick two-game road trip that concludes today. The absence of Nurse was especially noticeable in the Oilers’ third period collapse in Columbus, the Pens are pretty fortunate to catch Edmonton without the services of their best defender.
—The lines without Puljujarvi have been mixed up a bit, even as games go along with Kassian and Yamamoto switching off on McDavid’s right side. Expect to see more experimentation as needed, the Oilers aren’t shy about rotating wingers around to see which ones can catch lightning in a bottle and find some success with their top player.
—The goalie splits since the trade deadline (March 21st) can’t be much different:
- Mike Smith: 10 starts, 9-1-1 record, .936 save%, 2.18 GAA, 2 shutouts
- Mikko Koskinen: 7 starts, 2-3-1 record, .884 save%, 3.52 GAA, 0 shutouts
—Unfortunately for the Pens, with Koskinen drawing the game against the non-playoff Blue Jackets in Edmonton’s previous game, the deck is cleared for the 40-year old Smith to play in this game. Smith has been the hottest goalie in the world over the past three weeks, going 7-0 in his last seven games with a .962 save%.
Advanced stats matchup
—Areas of strength and weakness are clearly defined in this matchup, with Edmonton out-ranking Pittsburgh this season in every offensive category tracked above, but then the Pens being superior in every defensive-minded category.
That tells the story and presents the major key to the game: can the Pens defenders and backchecking forwards limit Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? If so, Pittsburgh will likely be in a great position to win this game. If they cannot, like McDavid’s four point game against Pittsburgh in the previous matchup of the season, the Oilers almost certainly will win this game.
—Edmonton made a mid-season coaching change and as often is the case it has resulted in a breath of fresh air and new energy and life for the team. Jay Woodcroft (23-9-8) has the Oilers playing differently and a lot better than they were early in the season under Dave Tippet.
And now for the Pens..
Sunday Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Jeff Carter - Evan Rodrigues
Brian Boyle - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Casey DeSmith and Louis Domingue
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Tristan Jarry (week-to-week), Nathan Beaulieu (LTIR), Kasperi Kapanen
—The Pens were off yesterday after a busy weekend that saw them play in Detroit and then Philadelphia. Now that they have 13 forwards available, they have been rotating and cycling a lower-line player out (first Boyle on Saturday, then Kapanen on Sunday) it will again be worth watching to see who the odd player out will be. Heinen has been scoring goals with regularity lately, McGinn recently returned from an injury, Blueger has an important role at center and on the PK, all of those players should be secure in their spots in the lineup. That leaves two lineup spots for three players between Boyle, Kapanen and Evan Rodrigues.
Sid and Connor, Round 9
For one reason or another (different conferences, injuries, global plagues), tonight will only be the ninth game ever featuring Crosby playing against McDavid. That has been a fairly sad development over the years that the two most dynamic and best offensive players of the salary cap era have so rarely crossed paths. This is of course highlighted by having no shared Olympic involvement in 2018 or 2022, and they weren’t even teammates in the NHL’s 2016 World Cup of Hockey due to McDavid being assigned to Team North America instead of Team Canada.
Overall, so far McDavid has 14 points (4G+10A) in the eight previous games against Crosby. Sid has only five points (2G+3A) but including the biggest highlight of that overtime GWG right through McDavid in 2018.
While McDavid has been much more productive, the other big standout is the Pens are 7-1-0 in the Crosby/McDavid games, which is an area Sid surely would be happy all day long to come out on top so often.
Pens’ PR also pointed out that the two superstars are nearly identical to one another at the early parts of their careers:
- Crosby’s first 485 games: 246 goals, 442 assists, 688 points
- McDavid’s career so far: 485 games, 238 goals, 454 assists, 692 points
Both of these guys are sensational players, it’s a shame they have 10 years of difference in their birth to really never have gotten to see like 2010ish primely skilled Crosby against the modern-day prime version of McDavid. But, at least in the rare instances of Pittsburgh/Edmonton games, the overlap of these two great players in the same era makes for some must see hockey.
Milestone and streak watch
- The Pens have won three-straight at home, and a win tonight would mark the third time this season they’ve strung four+ wins in a row at home.
- Here’s a fun stat: Rickard Rakell has two career hat tricks and both of them have come against the Oilers. In his career vs EDM, Rakell has 24 points (11G+13A) in 28 games, all coming with Anaheim (h/t Pens PR).
- Kris Letang enters tonight with 67 points on the season (9G+58A), tying a single-season career-high.
- Players within striking distance of the magic 20-goal mark this season: Evgeni Malkin (19), Danton Heinen, Evan Rodrigues, Jeff Carter (all with 18 a piece).
- If Malkin can get that one goal to make it to 20, it’ll mark the 13th time in his career that he’s gotten to that level.
- Players looking to break double-digits in goals on the year: Letang and Teddy Blueger (9), Jason Zucker (8)
- Sidney Crosby (84) is barely ahead of Jake Guentzel (83) for the team-lead in points this season.