Who: Anaheim Ducks (12-27-4, 28 points, 8th place Pacific Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (21-15-6, 48 points, 6th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh in the Western PA viewing market, Bally Sports SoCal out west, ESPN+
Opponent Track: It’s been a brutal season in Anaheim who come into tonight not only losers of three straight last week, but losing by the wide margins lately of 7-1 (BOS), 6-2 (EDM) and 6-2 (NJ). Prior to that awful week, the Ducks were actually 3-2-0 coming out of Christmas break, but the bottom always seems to drop out on them these days. Tonight is the first game of a lengthy six-game road trip.
Pens Path Ahead: The Pens head up to Canada’s capital to play the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, and then both teams will rematch in Pittsburgh on Friday. The alternating home and away games continues next week, with the Pens going to New Jersey next Sunday before coming back to Pittsburgh to host Florida next Tuesday January 24th.
Season Series: The Penguins have yet to make their trip to California this season, but it is coming up in a few weeks coming out of the All-Star break. Pittsburgh is in Anaheim on Friday February 10th.
Getting to know the Ducks
Adam Henrique - Mason McTavish - Troy Terry
Trevor Zegras - Ryan Strome - Frank Vatrano
Maxime Comtois - Sam Carrick - Jakub Silfverberg
Max Jones - Jayson Megna - Brett Leason
Cam Fowler / Dmitri Kulikov
Simon Benoit / John Klingberg
Urho Vaakanainen / Kevin Shattenkirk
Goalies: John Gibson or Anthony Stolarz
Scratches: Nathan Beaulieu (AHL conditioning stint), Colton White
IR: John Moore, Isac Lundestrom, Derek Grant, Jamie Drysdale, Justin Kirkland
—This team isn’t good, but it’s hard to wrap your head around just how bad they are. The Ducks only have four regulation wins in 43 games so far this season. They’re 31st in points and win% in the league, only behind Chicago who have games in hand and could conceivably knock Anaheim down to last place. Looking at the above lineup, it’s not a Stanley Cup winner, but it shouldn’t truly be the worst in the league.
—And yet, the Ducks are 32nd in the NHL in goals for per game (2.26) and 32nd in the NHL in goals allowed per game (4.16). That’s almost impossibly bad.
—The Ducks signed Klingberg for one year, presumably to flip at the deadline if things went south (and boy have they ever), but...is anyone even going to want him? Maybe on reputation, but Klingberg has had a rough go. It was sticking out as a red flag to me that the team who knew him best (Dallas) wasn’t exactly bending over backwards with offers to try and keep him. Reportedly, Anaheim is asking for a first round pick (then again, that was the initial asking price for Rickard Rakell and that didn’t come to be). It will be fascinating to see where Klingberg ends up, and if they’re able to get some desperate team to ante up.
—Despite being the team’s leading scorer, Troy Terry only has two goals in the last 20 games played since December 1st (he’s added on eight assists in the span as well).
—Rookie Mason McTavish (third overall pick in 2021) has arrived on the scene and with 15 points in the last 20 games he’s the Ducks’ leading scoring since the start of December. Overall McTavish is second among all rookie scorers this season (12 points behind Seattle’s Matty Beniers).
—John Gibson has to be wondering why the hell he’s still there and what is going on, doesn’t he? Gibson still had four more seasons after this at a $6.4 million cap hit, so who knows how viable any sort of move will be. GAA is widely said to be a “team defense” stat more than an individual goalie stat, and it’s sky high for all their goalies too. It’s a no win situation, I guess, aside from making a ton of money and living a nice life in So Cal.
More like the Anaheim Sucks, right? But yeah, they’re just so bad at everything, a truly dreadful team that needs a huge overhaul before they will be getting anywhere.
The Penguins’ finishing is getting to dangerously low levels lately. In the last month, Pittsburgh has only shot 5.9% at 5v5, and they’re at 28th in the NHL there and down in the neighborhood with teams you definitely do not want to be surrounded by (CBJ, OTT, ANA, MTL, CHI).
Over this time period, which includes the last 13 games played the Penguins have received:
—Bryan Rust: one ES goal on 30 shots
—Brock McGinn and Kasperi Kapanen: one ES goal a piece on a matching 19 shots
—Rickard Rakell: zero ES goals on 40 shots
—Danton Heinen: zero ES goals on 16 shots
—Teddy Blueger: zero ES goals on 15 shots
—All non-Ty Smith defensemen: 73 combined man-games played, one ES goal (P.O. Joseph), 72 shots
That’s half the team’s forward group and just about their entire defense that couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat right now, when it comes to scoring goals at even strength. The Pens desperately need some of those names to step it up and provide some goal scoring. Ideally it could be a natural cold patch that is about to heat up, especially for those scoring line guys (including Rakell, who scored on the power play last game). That’s probably the only hope, since the lower lines look as hopeless as ever.
Even Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel (three ES goals a piece in the last 13 games) are not lighting it up, but doing better than their teammates by comparison. Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Carter each have two ES goals a piece in this stretch, if you were wondering.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Drew O’Connor - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Brian Dumoulin / Mark Friedman
Ty Smith / Chad Ruhwedel
P.O. Joseph / Jan Rutta
Goalies: Casey DeSmith (Dustin Tokarski)
Scratches: Taylor Fedun, Marcus Pettersson (illness), Jonathan Gruden
Non-Roster: Kris Letang (family leave)
IR: Jeff Petry (upper body, LTIR), Josh Archibald, Tristan Jarry, Ryan Poehling
—No one’s been hotter than Jonathan Gruden lately with 5G+1A in his last three AHL games, but it remains to be seen what the immediate plan for him will be after his recall to the NHL yesterday. A center who is playing well would be a great add for the Penguins, let’s hope they’re shuffling around the lines and planning to incorporate Gruden. It literally can’t be any worse than how the lower lines have performed lately, but we’ll see how Mike Sullivan decides to shake things up, if he even is planning to play Gruden in the game at all.
—On defense, it’s possible that Pettersson’s illness has gone away enough to get him back in the game. Given LTIR and salary issues, it doesn’t look like Petry is ready and the team really couldn’t on the fly for tonight get him back. As of Sunday, there’s no timetable known for Letang to return to the team from his bereavement leave and he also had an injury to deal with anyways.