Who: Tampa Bay Lightning (37-17-4, 78 points, 3rd place Atlantic Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (28-21-9, 65 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 6:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh in the Western PA market, Bally Sports South down in Florida, SNE, SNW, SNP in Canada and NHL Network in America if you’re not in a local area.
Opponent Track: Very late night for Tampa last night, who had an 8:00pm’er in Detroit. They won 3-0, doing the Pens a favor to beat the Red Wings, despite being out-shot 45-18. After that, Tampa had to travel to Pittsburgh in the wee hours of the night. Last week Tampa went 1-0-1 at home, beating the hapless Anaheim Ducks 6-1 like a drum but losing 6-5 in OT to the resurgent Buffalo Sabres. Overall, the Lightning are tough to track as far as what you can expect. They lost 7-1 to Florida earlier this month. Then again, they also smacked Colorado around with a 5-0 win not too long ago. And they had a 0-0 game against Arizona recently that went to a shootout. Tampa has been all over the map lately, with some unexpected results to their games.
Pens Path Ahead: Pittsburgh hits the road after tonight for three straight games in the coming week. The Pens take to Nashville on Tuesday, before swinging back down to see these same Lightning players next Thursday. Then the Pens jump over to the other side of the state of Florida to meet up with the Panthers next Saturday. After that, the Pens return to PPG Paints for a lengthy five game home-stand, where it should be time to seriously make some hay with a mostly favorable schedule (CBJ-NYI-PHI-NYR-MTL).
Season Series: As mentioned above, these teams meet again next week and that will finish out the TB/PIT games. This is Round 2, the Pens beat Tampa 6-2 in Pittsburgh way back on October 15th in one of the first games of the season. Sidney Crosby recorded three points in that game (1G+2A) and Tristan Jarry stopped 34 of 36 shots in the win. (Also note it was Brian Elliott and not Andrei Vasilevskiy in net for Tampa).
Getting to know the Lightning
SBN partner blog: Raw Charge
Last night’s Game Lines
Brandon Hagel - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Ross Colton - Nicolas Paul - Vladislav Namestnikov
Patrick Maroon - P.E. Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman / Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev / Nick Perbix
Ian Cole / Cal Foote
Goalies: Brian Elliott (Andrei Vasilevskiy started last night)
Scratches: Haydn Fleury
Suspended: Erik Cernak (will be serving the second game of a two-game suspension tonight due to a hit last week against Kyle Okposo)
IR: Brent Seabrook (LTIR- unofficially retired)
—Great top six as always in Tampa, but the salary cap related losses of players like Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat from last year are starting to inevitably chip away at the Lightning. The difference in strength is growing obvious on paper when you compare their roster to the other top Eastern and Atlantic division teams. And it’s only growing with Boston recently adding Dmitri Orlov and Toronto getting Ryan O’Reilly — will Tampa find a way to answer the arms race?
—With McDonagh shed away for salary cap reasons, Tampa has had to turn to and lean on Cole a lot. At over 19 minutes played per game, this is Cole’s biggest season since 2016-17 with the Pens (outside of one year in Colorado). At 34 years old now, Cole is no spring chicken but has done well to help step up and plug an important role on their team this season. Cole is on a one-year contract, but whether with Tampa or someone else, he might be rounding out his playing career with another multi-year contract in the future as a result of his play this season.
—Cernak won’t play tonight due to what he did to the Sabres. But, ironically enough, it would be moderately better for Buffalo’s playoff chances if Tampa could use him against the Pens tonight and not play a lesser player in his place. Nothing anyone can do about a move designed to punish an individual for his actions, but it’s a weird twist of irony that Cernak’s hit on a Sabre kinda hurts Buffalo again for him to miss games against Detroit last night and the Pens tonight.
(note: does not include last night’s results)
—Hagel has already set a career-high in assists and points and soon should get there in goals too. Some questioned the wisdom of the trade price for Tampa giving up two first round picks (in 2023 and 2024) for the winger, but given his $1.5 million cap hit through next season, his value has been tremendous and he’s elevated in nicely for that team.
—To me, it seems like Steven Stamkos has had a quiet individual career considering his accomplishments. Turning 33 earlier this month, he’s tracking for another magnificent season. Stamkos recently crossed the 500 goal and 1000 point plateaus and as the captain of a 2x Stanley Cup team with two Rocket Richard trophies he will be a shoo-in for a ceremony in Toronto for the Hall of Fame one day. But compared to his peers, Stamkos is almost a forgotten and under appreciated man. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin take up a lot of oxygen, which makes sense, and now the newer-age stars have popped up and taken over as well. Could be wrong, but I don’t think Stamkos gets enough attention and credit for a career where has a very good shot at 600 goals (maybe even close to 700 if he plays five or six more seasons!)...What do you think, does Stamkos get enough love? Has his overall point totals and some really good recent years snuck up on you too a little bit?
And now for the Pens...
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Drew O’Connor - Teddy Blueger - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Jeff Petry
P.O. Joseph / Jan Rutta
Goalies: Casey DeSmith (Tristan Jarry played yesterday)
Scratches: Mark Friedman (upper-body injury), Ryan Poehling (injury), Chad Ruhwedel
IR: for the first time since December 14th, the Pens have no one on injured reserve!
Yeah, yeah — it’s only one game. Yeah, yeah — it was only against a lowly St. Louis team that isn’t very good. Don’t “yeah, yeah” me, this is important! Anyways, look at the 5v5 expected goal share via Moneypuck from the Penguins as indivduals yesterday. Danton Heinen getting back in the lineup like he wants to stay there. Jeff Carter waking up from a long winter’s nap. Those are good signs to see. It’s way too early to read into it beyond surface level, but the waiving of Kasperi Kapanen might just have sent a message and kick in the rear to this team to get it going, to go along with ditching the team’s worst performer in this regard. Sometimes addition by subtraction is real.
Clearly, you can’t expect these results to be replicated or sustained quite this high for very long, but it just goes to show how great players like Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin were yesterday. Even then, there’s the perspective of a backhanded compliment that Ron Hextall waited too long to start trimming some of the dead wood away and send a message to his club, but it’s better late than never to take steps to improve.
It was also a nice start for the Joseph-Rutta pair fitting in nicely to the vaunted “Mike Sullivan sheltered third pair” pocket. Those guys took care of business in their first action together in a while.