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Game Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Ottawa Senators 12/23/2023 - Lines, how to watch

The Penguins are hoping to hand the Senators their seventh loss in a row.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (15-13-3, 33 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division) @ Ottawa Senators (11-17-0, 22 points, 8th place Atlantic Division)

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: NHL Network, SportsNet Pittsburgh

Pens’ Path Ahead: After tonight the Penguins have three games remaining in 2023. They head to Long Island for a division matchup against the Islanders on Thursday, followed by a set of back-to-back home games on New Year’s Eve weekend against the St. Louis Blues and Islanders, again.

Opponent Track: The Senators are skidding down the standings. They’ve lost six straight, most recently a 6-4 Thursday decision to the Colorado Avalanche, where the Senators were unable to hold onto either a one-goal first-period lead or a two-goal second-period advantage.

Season Series: The Penguins lost the first game of this season series 5-2 at home in October. They won’t see the Sens again until March.

Hidden Stat: The Senators don’t have as big of a problem holding onto leads at home. They are 7-1-0 at Canadian Tire Centre when leading after one period, and 6-0-0 when leading after two.

Getting to know the Senators

Projected lines

FORWARDS

Brady Tkachuk - Tim Stützle - Drake Batherson

Vladimir Tarasenko - Josh Norris - Claude Giroux

Dominik Kubalik - Ridly Greig - Angus Crookshank

Jiri Smejkal - Mark Kastelic - Parker Kelly

DEFENSEMEN

Jake Sanderson / Artem Zub

Jakob Chychrun / Travis Hamonic

Erik Brännström / Jacob Bernard-Docker

Goalies: Joonas Korpisalo, Anton Forsberg

Possible scratches: Zack MacEwen, Mathieu Joseph

IR: Rourke Chartier, Thomas Chabot

Suspended: Shane Pinto

  • The Senators’ top line is in a dry streak. Tkachuk, who leads the team with 14 goals, has been held off the scoreboard entirely for two games, while Stützle is scoreless through six.

Player stats

(via hockeydb)

Senators goaltending

The Senators are allowing more than 3.5 goals against per game, the fifth-worst total in the NHL, in part because of the struggles of starting netminder Joonas Korpisalo.

In his first season with the Senators, his third team in two seasons, Korpisalo has a 6-11 record, .891 save percentage and 3.62 goals-against average through 19 appearances.

He has allowed a total of 23 goals over his last five starts.

There’s been tension brewing between Korpisalo and his defense over this stretch. You can see it in his frustration as the Avalanche cut the Senators’ lead in half in the second period on Thursday:

Special team woes

The Penguins aren’t the only team that have been recently struggling with their special teams.

Not only is the Ottawa power play (18.3 percent) ranked No. 20 in the NHL, but the Senators’ penalty kill (70.2 percent) is ranked dead last in the entire league.

Head coach DJ Smith said on Dec. 2 that the team’s special teams woes are causing problems in their even-strength play, per the Ottawa Sun’s Tim Baines:

“It’s our special teams right now. Where we sit, you’re not going to win a whole lot like that. You want to score on the power play and when you’re going good, your top guys start to feel it and it bleeds into their 5-on-5 game.”

“It's not for a lack of effort. These guys are trying. We went through a spurt last year where we were super, super hot for two months. Then we went through a month giving up shorties and we couldn’t get a shot on net. I know it’s going to turn. We’re working on it. You get a bounce or two and you never know.”

So far that bounce hasn’t come. Since that date the Senators have won two games, lost seven and have yet to turn their special teams around.

And now for the Penguins

Projected lines (from Thursday’s game)

FORWARDS

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

DEFENSEMEN

Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang

Ryan Graves / Erik Karlsson

John Ludvig / Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies: Tristan Jarry, Alex Nedeljkovic

Potential scratches: P.O. Joseph, Vinnie Hinostroza

IR: Matt Nieto (lower body injury), Bryan Rust (week-to-week injury)

  • Nieto and Rust both remained absent from Friday’s practice but skated on their own beforehand, per Pens Inside Scoop. It was Nieto’s first time skating since his injury.
  • We’re likely to see Jarry tonight after Nedeljkovic got the start against the Hurricanes (although Nedeljkovic, who holds a 3-0-1 record in his last four starts, could be considered the hot goaltender.) Heading into Saturday Jarry holds a 3-2 record (.917 SV%, 2.73 GAA) in five games against Ottawa.

Sid does it all

It was once again Sidney Crosby vs. the world during the Penguins’ Thursday victory over the Hurricanes.

Crosby’s first goal marked the sixth time he has scored the Penguins’ first goal of the game this season, leading all NHL players in game-opening goals, per Pens PR.

That also marked the 110th game-opening goal of his career, tying Mark Messier for No. 9 on the all-time leaders list, again per Pens PR.

The Penguins are going to need to get depth scoring eventually if they want to claw their way back into the playoff picture, but at least it’s always fun to watch an episode of the Sidney Crosby show.

More power-play work

The Penguins focused on the power play again during Friday’s practice. Per DK Pittsburgh Sports’ Alex Stumpf, the team practiced 5-on-4 setups in a smaller area than usual.

Head coach Mike Sullivan on the new drill, per Stumpf:

“By constraining their ice, things happen fast. They’re under pressure all the time. Puck support is essential... We’re trying to set up scenarios where they work on goal plays, goal line plays, things of that nature. When you set it up vertically, we’re working on the top half of the zone, working on the high flip and the use of the puck, or the bumper player, to beat pressure.”

Milestone watch

  • Erik Karlsson (599 assists) remains one assist away from 600. He could be the eighth fastest defenseman in NHL history to reach the mark.
  • Evgeni Malkin (482 goals) is one back of tying Sergei Fedorov (483) for the second-most goals scored by a Russian player.