Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (19-11-6, 44 points, 6th place Metropolitan Division) @ Vegas Golden Knights (26-12-2, 54 points, 1st place Pacific Division)
When: 10:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh in the Western PA viewing market, AT&T Sportsnet Rocky Mountains out west
Opponent Track: Vegas has been off since defeating Colorado by a 3-2 score on Monday. The Knights are 2-1-1 since resuming play after Christmas break, and almost all of their recent games have been very close one-goal games, with two of the last three requiring at least over time to settle.
Pens Path Ahead: The Penguins will stay in the desert and trek down to Phoenix on Sunday for their next time (for the rare 7:00pm eastern Sunday start). Then they don’t have much time at all to get back to Pittsburgh get get ready to host the Vancouver Canucks next Tuesday night before then getting a little longer break prior to seeing the Winnipeg Jets come to town next Friday, January 13th.
Season Series: Pittsburgh defeated Vegas by a 4-3 final score back on December 1st. Kasperi Kapanen broke a 14-game goal drought and a third period tie with the game winning goal. The Pens also peppered goalie Logan Thompson with 47 shots, but the Golden Knights were able to answer with 37 SOG of their own on Tristan Jarry. Will we see another shooting gallery tonight?
Hidden stat: Vegas “only” has an 11-9-0 home record this season, a far cry from their days of home dominance (65-33-10 combined home mark in the prior three seasons).
Getting to know the Golden Knights
SB Nation counterpart: Knights on Ice
Michael Amadio - Chandler Stephenson - Mark Stone
Paul Cotter - William Karlsson - Phil Kessel
Reilly Smith - Jack Eichel - Nicolas Roy
William Carrier - Jake Leschyshyn - Kegan Kolesar
Nicolas Hague / Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb / Kaeden Korczak
Ben Hutton / Brayden Pachal
Goalies: Logan Thompson (Adin Hill)
Scratches: Shea Theodore (injured), Daniil Miromanov
IR: Jonathan Marchessault, Alec Martinez, Zach Whitecloud, Brett Howden, Nolan Patrick, Shea Weber (unofficially retired), Robin Lehner
—Eichel was recently removed from the IR, he’s been out of action since December 9th and only played two games after the earlier PIT/VGK meeting of the season where he tallied one goal and added an assist for Vegas. Vegas has made corresponding moves to get down to 12 forwards, so it looks like Eichel is planning on returning for tonight’s game.
—The Vegas roster is influx with frequent call ups and reassignments to the AHL with their bevy of injuries. On defense it’s possible the lines above aren’t going to be accurate, but that is what they practiced with yesterday.
—Phil Kessel’s ironman streak is still going, so that’s good. After a slow start in October (1G+2A in 10 games), Phil has been slowly producing a little more in recent months, notching six points (2G+4A) in 15 games in December. With an average playing time of 12:19 per game this season, Kessel is mostly on the fringes at this point.
—As has been a tenet for the young franchise, the strength of the Knights is in their depth and featuring several different lines that can produce points. Pietrangelo and Eichel don’t have massive counting stats this season due to time missed, but seven players on the team have 26+ points. By comparison, the Penguins only have three players with 26+ (though Pittsburgh does have six with 23+, so it’s close but a notch lower for depth contributions).
Head to head
—Vegas may be a first place team, but their advanced numbers don’t match up. In fact, these two teams play very similar to one another and are very close in their strengths and weaknesses, other than 5x5 expected goals against (advantage Vegas) and penalty kill (big advantage Pittsburgh).
—As mentioned above, when these teams met last month there were 84 total shots on goal. Given the banged up bluelines that both teams will bring tonight and the uptempo forwards up front, it’s probably a good bet to see another high-pace game of chances at both ends.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Ryan Poehling - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Marcus Pettersson / Jan Rutta
P.O. Joseph / Mark Friedman
Brian Dumoulin / Ty Smith
Goalies: Casey DeSmith (Dustin Tokarski)
Scratches: Tristan Jarry (injured), Drew O’Connor, Chad Ruhwedel (injured)
Non-Roster: Kris Letang (family leave)
IR: Jeff Petry (upper body, LTIR, out until at least January 8th), Josh Archibald
—The injuries are mounting for the Penguins. Pettersson missed practice yesterday, but was deemed to be a maintenance day. Expect him to likely play tonight, though probably not at 100%. Jarry did not make the trip west with the team and won’t be playing in at least the next two games.
—Mike Sullivan’s shuffling of the bottom six continued at practice, most notably with moving Jeff Carter back to center and putting Danton Heinen and Kasperi Kapanen back on his line. Poehling and O’Connor rotated on the fourth line, it looks like Poehling could make another return from injury.
—Jeff Petry didn’t skate with the team but is on the trip. He is eligible to come off the long-term IR as soon as next game against Phoenix, but it’s unknown if that will happen.
DeSmith’s back to being the guy
The life of being a backup goalie isn’t easy. With Tristan Jarry heating up and playing very well, Casey DeSmith only played in three games in December. Two of those starts for DeSmith were in back-to-back scenarios. Then when Jarry got hurt in the Winter Classic, DeSmith had to come in cold, stopping 19 of 21 shots on the big stage.
Now with Jarry not even with the team for the rest of the week, the net looks like it will be DeSmith’s for the foreseeable future. During Jarry’s last injury at the end of the 2021-22 regular season, DeSmith started 5/6 games down the stretch (only missing a back-to-back) and posted a .940 save% with a 3-2-0 record the last time he was a temporary starter.
DeSmith on stepping up in Jarry's absence: "Looking back on some past years, I feel like I've played my best hockey, or at least some of my best hockey, when I've been in this position before. So that definitely adds a layer of confidence."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 4, 2023
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