Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (19-13-6, 44 points, 6th place Metropolitan Division) @ Arizona Coyotes (13-20-5, 31 points, 7th place Central Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh in the Western PA viewing market, Bally Sports Arizona out west, TVAs in Canada
Opponent Track: The Coyotes come into tonight looking for their first win of 2023 (just like the Penguins). Arizona is 0-3-0 in the new year and on a four-game losing streak overall. But they have won their last three home games, including a surprising 6-3 victory over Toronto last week. Tonight is the third game in four days for Arizona, having played last in Chicago in a 2-0 losing effort on Friday night.
Pens Path Ahead: The Penguins have to get back home quickly to meet the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night. Then comes Pittsburgh’s last two day break for basically the rest of the month, Winnipeg is in town Friday and the Pens will be in Carolina on Saturday night as their schedule starts ramping up through the All-Star break.
Season Series: The Penguins beat Arizona like a drum 6-2 on opening night back on October 13th (feels like forever ago already, doesn’t it?). Sidney Crosby scored a goal and added two assists in the win.
Hidden stat: Arizona carries a strong 7-3-2 record inside their bizarre but raucous 4,600 seat college hockey arena that they’ve been cast aside to for the foreseeable future.
Hidden stat II: The Coyotes are a team that will go away quietly when it’s not their night, they’re just 2-16-1 when losing after two periods. However, when they are in a game, they are 11-4-4 when leading or tied going into the third period. While that is standard to obviously have better records when not losing late, the splits are very profound for this team. If you give them a reason to hang around, they will. If you take it to them early, they’re probably not coming back (though with the way the Pens have failed to protect leads, that maybe isn’t true tonight..)
Getting to know the Coyotes
SB Nation counterpart: Five for Howling
Michael Carcone - Nick Bjugstad - Lawson Crouse
Clayton Keller - Jack McBain - Nick Schmaltz
Nick Ritchie - Barrett Hayton - Christian Fischer
Travis Boyd - Zack Kassian
Shayne Gostisbehere / Jacob Chychrun
Patrik Nemeth / Troy Stetcher
Juuso Valimaki / Josh Brown
Goalies: Karel Vejmelka (Connor Ingram)
Scratches: Liam O’Brien, Mattias Maccelli, Dylan Guenther
IR: Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little (unofficially retired)
—These are the lines used in Friday’s game, it is possible that Guenther may be returning to the lineup soon after his starring role for Team Canada in the recent World Juniors. Guenther scored the OT golden goal for the Canadians.
—Interesting split of talent across the board here, Arizona will use that “first” line as a checking group and Keller will get heavy minutes in offensive opportunities. Add Guenther and 2022-first rounder/Pittsburgh native Logan Cooley and suddenly Arizona’s forward crew has hope to look more dangerous and explosive in the years ahead. Ideally for them, a game-changer quite literally would be some luck in the draft lottery with the prize of Connor Bedard that would breathe a ton of life into this franchise. Arguably no other NHL team could need/use Bedard more.
—Already in his sixth full NHL season, the 24-year old Clayton Keller represents the established franchise player that this team hopes to build around. Keller should be around for a while in Arizona, he is signed to a very reasonable $7.15 million cap hit through the 2027-28 season.
—As a building team, Arizona is very young, as to be expected. 31-year old Zack Kassian is the oldest player on the roster with only two other players who are 30. Five players are in the college ages of 19-22.
—Don’t let the .902 save% fool you, goalie Karel Vejmelka has been a major reason that the Coyotes have been somewhat competitive. He often times has to stand on his head in order to give his team a chance, and has shown some capability to do just that. Vejmelka also carries a .916 save% at home this season, though overall in his short career the Penguins have had very little trouble with him. In two career appearances against Pittsburgh, Vejmelka has conceded six goals in each game.
—The Chychrun and Gostisbehere pairing has to be: #1 the first big time NHL partnership of Floridian born players and #2 one of the toughest combined pairings to type and spell. Anyways, most believe both players could be on the outs via a trade in the coming weeks, but Chychrun has been very impressive after a delayed start of his season due to injury.
Head to head
—In speaking to how pesky the Coyotes can be; Arizona shows some surprising finishing ability, which can’t make Casey DeSmith too comfortable heading into this game. However, their ability to generate a lot of chances just isn’t there based on their talent level, so they need to make the most of their opportunities when they arise in order to stay competitive and in games.
—On the other end, this has all the makings of a “get right” game for the Pens. They are good at controlling territory and shooting a lot of pucks. Arizona struggles at preventing shots against them. Vejmelka is going to have to eat his Wheaties, he is almost certain to see a lot of action. Pittsburgh is averaging 32.3 shots per game, they should be going well over that today — having already put 53 shots on Vejmelka on opening night in the previous meeting of these two teams.
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
Drew O’Connor - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Marcus Pettersson / Jan Rutta
Brian Dumoulin / Ty Smith
P.O. Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Casey DeSmith (Dustin Tokarski)
Scratches: Tristan Jarry (injured), Ryan Poehling (injured), Mark Friedman
Non-Roster: Kris Letang (family leave)
IR: Jeff Petry (upper body, LTIR), Josh Archibald
—The Penguins stuck with the same setup of lines from Thursday night’s game in a practice yesterday to prepare for today’s game. Poehling again did not participate as his nagging injury continues to keep him out.
—Jeff Petry is capable of coming off LTIR today per the rules of minimum time/games required to miss, but did not skate with the team. It’s a positive he’s skating and traveling but his return does not appear to be imminent due to not being physically ready.
Odds and ends of slumps
If this is a game where some Penguins can break out, here are some candidates where it would be nice to see them get out of some individual droughts as of late:
—Kasperi Kapanen scored a goal @AZ last season, and only has one road goal in the 22 games he’s played since then (scored at Fenway stadium in the Winter Classic last week)
—Jake Guentzel is on an eight-game goal drought, the longest in his career since an 11 game stretch in Feb/Mar 2018
—Danton Heinen is now at 27 games without a goal (Oct 22 vs CBJ)
—Teddy Blueger has one goal in 23 games played this season (Dec 6 vs CBJ)
—Evgeni Malkin doesn’t have an even strength assist in 13 games (Dec. 3rd vs STL) and only one point (a goal) in his last six games