Who: Minnesota Wild (12-12-4, 28 points, 7th place Central Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (13-13-3, 29 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: SportsNet Pittsburgh and Bally Sports North and Wisconsin for the local feeds, streaming on ESPN+
Pens’ Path Ahead: After tonight there are two more games before the Christmas break; the Pens stay home to meet Carolina on Thursday and then travel up north to Ottawa on Saturday. After that is the three-day break and come back from it on next Wednesday 12/27 against the Islanders.
Opponent Track: The Wild are 7-2 under new coach John Hynes. Impressive, but also lucky in the sense they have won their last two games in the shootout in the last two out.
Season Series: The Pens make the trip to the Twin Cities on February 9th. Lucky them.
Hidden Stat: The Penguins enter tomorrow’s game with points in nine-consecutive games versus the Wild (8-0-1), per Pens PR.
Getting to know the Wild
Kirill Kaprizov - Joel Eriksson-Ek - Matt Boldy
Marcus Johansson - Marco Rossi - Mats Zuccarello
Marcus Foligno - Frederik Gaudreau - Pat Maroon
Brandon Duhaime - Connor Dewar - Ryan Hartman
Jacob Middleton / Brock Faber
Alex Goligoski / Zach Bogosian
Jon Merrill / Daemon Hunt
Goalies: Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury
Possible scratches: Vinni Letteri, Dakota Mermis, Jared Spurgeon
IR: Jonas Brodin
—Rookie of the year was always looking like an open and shut case for Connor Bedard, but Rossi enters the game in second place in rookie scoring (17 points), nine back of Bedard. But a case could be made that the most impactful rookie in the league is Brock Faber. Faber skated 31:34 in the OT game against Vancouver the last game out and is averaging almost 24 per game this season.
—Matt Boldy has 7G+2A in the nine games since the coaching change. His slump, along with some others is a factor that cost Dean Evason his job.
—Gustavsson is red hot since the change too with a 6-1-0 record, .954 save% and has only surrendered nine goals in the seven games he’s played.
Curtain call for the Flower?
At 39, Marc-Andre Fleury is now the oldest goaltender in the league. His save% is below .900%, which it only was in his first two NHL seasons (2003-04 and 2005-06). Fleury’s career has had enough twists and turns by now to know better than to ever say never, but in the final year of his contract this could well be it for him playing a game in Pittsburgh, if he even plays. Fleury has only played three games in the last month. As mentioned above, Gustavsson has been playing incredibly.
And now for the Penguins
Projected lines (from yesterday’s practice)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell (?)
Reilly Smith - Evgeni Malkin - Valtteri Puustinen
Radim Zohorna - Lars Eller - Drew O’Connor
Jansen Harkins - Noel Acciari - Jeff Carter
Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang
Ryan Graves / Erik Karlsson
John Ludvig / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry, Alex Nedeljkovic
Potential scratches: P.O. Joseph, Marc Johnstone, Ryan Shea, Jonathan Gruden
IR: Rickard Rakell (upper body injury), Matt Nieto (lower body injury), Bryan Rust (week-to-week injury)
—Lose 7-0 like the Pens did on Saturday and you can expect some changes, and the team gave some new looks yesterday in practice. All three defensive pairings were shuffled, which is over-due. Graves/Letang was doing well (before Saturday anyways) at not giving up goals, but something was off to the eye on how they fit and Graves’ play in general has gone through common “first year defender in a new scheme” struggles.
—Rakell took his second practice with contact, we’ll see if today will be the day. Acciari returned to practice in a regular contact jersey for the first time since his November 30th injury. Both should be close. Chad Ruhwedel advanced to a normal pair, he was removed from IR over the weekend but (luckily for him) wasn’t a part of the playing lineup against Toronto.
Mike Sullivan confirmed Acciari and Rakell both participated in a full capacity today. "So, real encouraging stuff. We'll see how they respond, and then we'll make decisions accordingly from there." https://t.co/4QN2GfHNtH— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 17, 2023
—Zohorna looks like the new Kasperi Kapanen in terms of the player that Sullivan often benches during the game for long stretches, yet continues to be dressed for games in the first place.
Rick Rak return?
The Penguins need Rickard Rakell more than ever. Losing such a productive player has been a challenge down a level to find much offense outside of the Crosby-Guentzel connection up front.
From the team’s PR staff:
Winger Rickard Rakell appears to be nearing a return to the lineup after missing the last 12 games due to an upper-body injury. Rakell, who has four assists in 17 games this season, ranks fourth on the Penguins in points since being acquired by the team on March 21, 2022:
Player GP G A PTS
Sidney Crosby 129 59 88 147
Jake Guentzel 126 60 68 128
Evgeni Malkin 125 46 78 124
Rickard Rakell 118 32 45 77
Bryan Rust 122 34 42 76
Rakell has recorded 17 points (11G-6A) in 30 career games against the Wild. He has nine points (6G-3A) in his last seven games against them, which includes four multi-point efforts.