Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (30-21-9, 69 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division) @ Tampa Bay Lightning (37-19-4, 78 points, 3rd place Atlantic Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh in the Western PA market, Bally Sports South for Tampa fans, TVAS in Canada, ESPN+
Opponent Track: It’s been a fairly meh stretch for the Lightning, who are only 2-3-2 over their previous seven games. That includes taking one on the chin in a 7-3 loss in Pittsburgh just a few days ago on Sunday, which they followed up with a 4-1 loss to Florida on Tuesday. Now that it’s March, maybe they’ll start to wake up, with Boston waaaaay out in front, there hasn’t been much to play for in Tampa for a while now, with a likely playoff matchup against Toronto having been locked in seemingly since about Thanksgiving.
Pens Path Ahead: After tonight, only one more game on the road trip that wraps up on Saturday night in Florida. Then, the Pens get a two-day break before a five-game homestand kicks up next week with visits from Columbus (Tuesday 3/7), NYI (Thursday (3/9) and Philadelphia (Saturday 3/11) in the immediate future. Overall March gets busy for Pittsburgh with 11 games in a 19 day stretch from 3/7-3/25.
Season Series: Tampa has been a top team for a while, but the Pens have been matching up well against them, for whatever reason. Pittsburgh is 4-1-0 since the start of the 2021-22 season against TB, including 2-0-0 this season and looking for the season sweep.
Getting to know the Lightning
SBN partner blog: Raw Charge
Wednesday Practice Lines
Brandon Hagel - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Steven Stamkos -Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn
Ross Colton - Nick Paul - Tanner Jeannot
Vladislav Namestnikov* - P.E. Bellemare - Pat Maroon
Victor Hedman / Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev / Nick Perbix
Ian Cole / Erik Cernak
Goalies: Andrei Vasilievskiy (Brian Elliott)
Scratches: Haydn Fleury
IR: Brent Seabrook (LTIR - unofficially retired)
—I would not want to be a defenseman when that third line dumps the puck in behind me and then barrels down when I turn to go get it. My goodness, that will be a fun thing to watch, aside from tonight when it’s guys like Marcus Pettersson and Kris Letang going to have to scrape themselves off the walls after getting driven into them.
—Corey Perry missed practice yesterday for an undisclosed personal matter. At time of this writing, it is unclear if he will be available to play tonight. Overall the lines after different from last week and shuffled a bit after Tampa’s recent losing streak.
—Namestnikov definitely won’t be playing tonight, he was traded to San Jose after practice.
—Cernak missed Sunday’s game due to serving a suspension. It has since ended and he is back in the lineup.
—Mighty healthy difference in the GAA and save%’s between starter and backup. Big surprise might be Elliott’s impressive 9-4-2 record. Considering the 3.17 GAA, he must be getting a ton of goal support.
—Alex Killorn is a free agent after this season, will he be the next departure from the Tampa core? He is getting a little long in the tooth (turns 34 in fall before the start of next regular season) but is so consistent for about 20ish goals and 50points every single season, including what is looking likely for this year as well. Doesn’t stand out or draw a lot of attention as a flashy player, but much like a Chris Kunitz-type, teams that go far in the playoffs tend to have guys like Alex Killorn on them.
Head to head matchup
—Tampa’s about tapped out on cap room and also assets to trade away, but I do wonder if they’ll regret not touching up their defense before the trade deadline. Subbing out Ryan McDonagh and putting in Ian Cole is not going to work out quite the same, and Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev can only do so much. Expected goals allowed is probably Tampa’s worse area, but it looks like they’ll just hope Vasilievskiy can make up the differences in team strength from the past if they end up allowing a little more.
—Can you fix “finishing”? The Pens might be trying, they only had a 6.9% shooting percentage with Kasperi Kapanen on the ice this season, and he’s gone. Brock McGinn (5.9%) was even lower and he’s off the NHL team now. Teddy Blueger at 5.1% had the team’s lowest on ice shooting% and he’s been traded. The only remaining player that sticks out is Jeff Carter (5.7%), who can’t be traded/waived by virtue of his no movement clause. Upgrades or changes there would probably help the Pens finish better and score more goals, though Mikael Granlund only has a 7.7% 5v5 on ice shooting % this year in Nashville, hardly much of an improvement.
And now for the Pens...
Shot in the Dark Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Mikael Granlund - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Drew O’Connor - Ryan Poehling - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Jeff Petry
P.O. Joseph / Jan Rutta
Goalies: Tristan Jarry, Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Chad Ruhwedel, Drake Cagguila
—Who knows how the Pens will look tonight, we’ve definitely got these written down in very light pencil, very much subject to change. Cagguila isn’t officially on the NHL roster yet but was a healthy scratch in Wilkes last night and believed to be traveling to join the NHL team and be on hand tonight. It looks like Cagguila would be playing if Poehling can’t go due to his injury (possibly shifting O’Connor over to center for a game) or if Granlund doesn’t join up with the Pens in time for tonight, Haven’t seen one way or the other how those travel plans were looking.