Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (19-11-6, 44 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ Boston Bruins (28-4-4, 60 points, 1st place Atlantic Division)
When: 2:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: Nationally broadcast game on TNT, Sportsnet and TVAs in Canada
Weather: For once in the previews, a weather report! It should be a picture perfect day in Boston today. The forecast says there is zero chance of rain and the temperature should be at a fairly seasonably warm 50 degrees when the puck drops, with wind of only 9 mph expected.
Opponent Track: What a dream start for the Bruins, who have yet to lose at home in regulation this season (18-0-3) and basically just never lose all that much at all. They did fall 4-3 in OT to Buffalo on Saturday night in their previous game (blowing a 3-2 third period lead - see it happens to the best of ‘em) but their last regulation loss is all the way back on December 7th, against the Coyotes of all teams.
Pens Path Ahead: 2023 doesn’t start easy for the Penguins. There’s today’s game, then they stay on the road and head out to Las Vegas on Thursday night to play another first place team. Then next Sunday, the Pens play in Arizona, where the Coyotes have disoriented teams to a 7-3-2 AZ record in their micro-arena. Not difficult for volume of the amount of games, but a big challenge for the situations to start out the new year.
Season Series: This is the second PIT/BOS game of the season, the Bruins took a 6-5 OT win in Pittsburgh back in November 1st in a game where the Pens were leading at one point by a 5-2 score, that ended up evaporating away on them. The teams will meet for a third and final time back in PA on April 1st.
Hidden stat: Visiting teams have a surprisingly very strong all-time record of 9-3-1 in history of the NHL’s Winter Classic games.
Getting to know the Bruins
SB Nation counterpart: Stanley Cup of Chowder
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jake DeBrusk
Pavel Zacha - David Krejci - David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall - Charlie Coyle - Craig Smith
A.J. Greer - Trent Frederic - Nick Foligno
Hampus Lindholm / Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk / Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort / Connor Clifton
Goalies: Linus Ullmark (Jeremy Swayman)
Scratches: Tomas Nosek, Jakub Zboril
—There are some good players above, and it’s clearly a talented bunch, but like first place in the NHL talented? Can’t say I quite see it, but that’s sort of Boston’s magic for a long time — they’re more than the sum of their parts. Led by Bergeron, they’re just a very workman-like, solid group that knows how to win. Certainly with Pastrnak and a former MVP in Hall and a deep defense this is not a fluke or shot at them, but they always seem to get more out of what you would expect just on paper alone.
—Krejci’s late-career flourish is one of the best stories going. He opted to stay in Czech for 2021-22 after the pandemic, and in his prior NHL season he only scored eight goals in 51 games anyways, looking like it was the end of his days playing at the highest level, until a surprising return signing happened with Boston last summer. He’s not a young man and almost no one leaves the NHL, comes back and then still is able to perform even better than when he left. Amazing story there, helps to have some chemistry and magic going with his uber-talented countryman in Pastrnak, but there’s also more at play than that.
—Ullmark has quietly been one of the steadier and better goalies in the league lately (save% the last three seasons: .915, .915, .916%) but has taken it to a different and completely ridiculous level. 20-1-1 record? Leads the NHL in save%, GAA and Goals Saved Above Average. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, Ullmark has 70 “quality starts” according to Hockey Reference to only five “really bad starts”. And it’s a perfect 20-0 this year, with 87% of his starts being quality ones (league average was ~53% and anything above 60% is considered very impressive. 87% is almost impossibly good).
Head to head
—It’s difficult to be good at literally everything, but the Bruins have pulled it off so far. They’re in the top quartile of the league for it all, and often much better than that. They’re very good at 5-on-5 at both ends of the rink, and even better when it comes to the special teams aspects of the power play and penalty kill. And they have had the best starting goalie (by far) in the league on top of all of the other great things that they have going for them. Thus, they basically never lose, unless you run into them when they are on the road and playing their backup goalie.
—That said, the outdoor elements mixing this game up from the normal situation could only be considered helpful for the Pens. Pittsburgh almost always loses at TD Garden anyways lately, and the Bruins are in such a groove. An outdoor rink is way different than normal. The locker-rooms are different, as is an extended walk to the rink. The environment and wind and weather and glares change things up in such a major way. Having so much be different and unusual has to be a good thing for the Pens at this point that this is a unique game against this opponent.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Brock McGinn - Teddy Blueger - Jeff Carter
Danton Heinen - Ryan Poehling - Kasperi Kapanen
Marcus Pettersson / Jan Rutta
P.O. Joseph / Mark Friedman
Brian Dumoulin / Ty Smith
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Kris Letang (injured), Drew O’Connor, Chad Ruhwedel (injured)
IR: Jeff Petry (upper body, LTIR, out until at least January 8th), Josh Archibald
—The Pens enjoyed an outside practice yesterday afternoon, with one notable change to their top line right wings. It’s been fairly quiet lately for both Crosby and Guentzel and coach Mike Sullivan is going to a very familiar lever to bring Rust back to their line.
—Letang is reportedly with the team in Boston, but did not practice yesterday. That foreshadows another tough looking game on paper for the talent level of the Pittsburgh blueline.
—Petry did not practice, but he did join everyone and his kids for the family skate, as well as the team’s picture in a full jersey.
Dream come true for Sully
There was probably never a point in the time of his youth that Massachusetts native Mike Sullivan could have ever have even imagined it would be possible he would one day be coaching an NHL team to play against the Bruins AT Fenway Park, the legendary home of his beloved Red Sox. Yet, here we are.
Coach Sullivan on tomorrow's #WinterClassic at Fenway Park: "It's really a unique ballpark. The history, I think, is well chronicled. It speaks for itself. But being a Boston kid born and raised there… I can't put it into words how excited I am." https://t.co/JwK938F3GH— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 1, 2023
Very cool moment for Sullivan and the Pens’ other two New Englanders in Brian Dumoulin and Casey DeSmith.
A picture-esque practice
Can’t get many better scenes than this for a practice yesterday. I guess there’s no good answer for helmet color since the Bruins will use black and white wouldn’t look right, but the Pens wearing their bright yellow helmets don’t really hit the mark. But so it goes.
Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins emerge for practice in scally caps. pic.twitter.com/9tbQa9kjAL— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) January 1, 2023
Let’s take this outside ❄️ pic.twitter.com/CuROWVlIqp— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 1, 2023