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Game Preview: Vancouver Canucks @ Pittsburgh Penguins 1/11/2024 - Lines, how to watch

The Penguins welcome the first place Vancouver Canucks to town tonight

Vancouver Canucks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Who: Vancouver Canucks (27-11-3, 57 points, 1st place Pacific Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (20-15-4, 42 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division)

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Sportsnet Pittsburgh, streaming on ESPN+

Pens’ Path Ahead: The Pens head out to Raleigh for Saturday night against the Hurricanes, then return home on Monday to see the Seattle Kraken. Next week is extremely slack with a nice four-day break as Pittsburgh gears up for a quick two-game Western trip (Sat Jan 20th @Vegas, Mon Jan 22nd @AZ) in the near horizon.

Opponent Track: It’s been quite the slog lately for the Canucks, who are on the fifth game of a road trip. Tonight is the type of games coaches hate: third in four days, fourth in six. But it’s been a successful road trip so far; after falling to St. Louis, the Canucks bounced back to beat all three of the NYC area teams. Vancouver downed the Devils (6-4), then the Rangers (6-3) and finally the Islanders (5-2) in their last game Tuesday. Goals aplenty lately too as you can see from those final scores.

Season Series: The Pens don’t make their Pacific northwest trip until late February this season, they’ll be in Vancouver on February 27th.

Hidden Stat: Shoutout to the Penguins PR team for letting us know that Pittsburgh is 9-4-1 against Western Conference opponents this season, and are 6-3-0 against the West at home.

Getting to know the Canucks

Projected lines

FORWARDS

Elias Pettersson - J.T Miller - Brock Boeser

Ilya Mikheyev - Pius Suter - Andrei Kuzmenko

Dakota Joshua - Teddy Blueger - Conor Garland

Nils Hoglander - Nils Aman - Sam Lafferty

DEFENSEMEN

Quinn Hughes / Filip Hronek

Carson Soucy / Tyler Myers

Nikita Zadorov / Noah Juulsen

Goalies: Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith

Possible scratches: Ian Cole, Mark Friedman

IR: Tucker Poolman, Guillaume Brisebois, Phillip Di Giuseppe

—Lots of familiar names in this lineup, just about every depth player acquired by the Jim Rutherford/Patrik Allvin regime has ties to Pittsburgh, even for ones who entered the organization by the time those two left (Mark Friedman). On the bench the Canucks have Rick Tocchet as their head coach and Mike Yeo as an assistant. Sergei Gonchar is in the organization as a defensive development coach. Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin are the key figures in the front office. Lots of ties and connections to an older era of Pittsburgh hockey.

—Blueger’s line has been playing really good hockey lately and at least one member of it was on for three out of the five goals Vancouver scored against the Islanders on Tuesday. Blueger is on a four-game point streak and going back to December 14th has 13 points (2G+10A) in the last 12 games he’s played.

Player stats

(via hockeydb)

—Casey DeSmith’s “quality start” percentage over his Pittsburgh career followed a consistent downward path: 62.9% as a rookie in 2017-18 to 60.0% the next season, to 52.9%, then 50.0% and finally 48.5% last year. The change of scenery has done well for DeSmith, he’s pitched quality starts in 8/12 (66.7%) of his games so far for Vancouver this season. DeSmith has only played twice since Christmas, including last game @NYI on the b-2-b. We’ll see if Rick Tocchet is feeling like playing the goalie against his old team tonight.

—Gotta give the Canucks their due for moves they made and didn’t make; the Hronek move was panned across the hockey world as paying a big price for a piece that didn’t seem to mesh Vancouver’s timeline, but his stat line looks incredible this year...And then you have Brock Boeser, often named in trade rumors and probably only unmoveable due to his contract and cap hit. Well, now he’s on pace for 50 goals halfway through the season and you don’t hear his name in the rumor mill any longer (Andrei Kuzmenko has taken Boeser’s spot as the perceived overpaid winger that Vancouver might seek to move).

Scoring off the rush

The Canucks this year have been blessed by an incredibly high PDO, sitting at 105.2 — far and away tops in the league. Shooting 13.8% as a team across all situations will do that.

One reason for the high shooting percentage is that Vancouver has been absolutely lethal when it comes to scoring off the rush.

A lot of times it feels like a threat or negative to talk about a team with a high shooting%, as if it can’t be sustained and must be a mirage. But there is nothing fluky about how the Canucks are playing and finishing. The Pens are no strangers to giving up rushes against but must be very careful about keeping enough players in defensive positions and making wise decisions with the puck. Managing the neutral zone and staying in structure will be absolutely critical, being as the Canucks have definitely proven they will make a team pay on the rush.

And now for the Penguins

Projected lines

FORWARDS

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell

Drew O’Connor - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust

Reilly Smith - Lars Eller - Valtteri Puustinen

Jansen Harkins - Noel Acciari - Jeff Carter

DEFENSEMEN

Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang

P.O. Joseph / Erik Karlsson

Ryan Graves / Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies: Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic

Potential scratches: Radim Zohorna, Ryan Shea

IR: Matt Nieto (recovering from knee surgery), John Ludvig (upper body injury)

—Drew O’Connor has been playing undeniable type of hockey and moved up the lines full-time in practice yesterday, which isn’t a new development since he has been taking shifts lately on the second line. Add that to Reilly Smith only scoring two goals since early November in his last 29 games, and a flip in lines makes a lot of sense at this point.

—Tristan Jarry has only played two games and 73 minutes in calendar 2024, compared to Alex Nedeljkovic’s 167 minutes. Nedeljkovic has the hot hand after Monday’s 36-save effort in a win over the Flyers. Interesting decision for the Pens, especially with Carolina on deck. It might not be much of a decision at all with the option to ride Nedeljkovic tonight, see how it goes and then re-examine for next game.

Old faces

It hasn’t escape the Pens that they’ll be welcoming back a lot of old friends, and that the Canucks have had a pretty good road trip so far.

He’s heating up!

If this was the old NBA jam video game, you’d probably hear that about Rickard Rakell right now. Rakell is looking to create his first five-game point streak as a Penguin if he gets on the scoresheet tonight. From the team:

Rickard Rakell enters tomorrow’s game riding a four-game point streak (3G-2A), and has points in eight of his last nine games overall (5G-5A). Overall, Rakell has notched 10 (5G-5A) of his 14 points (5G-9A) this season in the 10 games since he’s returned from injury:

Situation Dates GP G A PTS

Before Injury Oct. 10-Nov. 19 17 0 4 4

Since Returning Dec. 18-Present 10 5 5 10

Smith successful against Vancouver

Attention has turned to Reilly Smith now that Rakell is regularly putting up points these days. The good news is that playing against the Canucks has been good for Smith over the years. Now on a new line, can Smith start to get right? It’s worth watching. Again from th Pens:

Reilly Smith has 21 points (9G-12A) in 24 career games versus Vancouver, which includes an active nine-game point streak against them (5G-7A). His point streak is tied for the fourth-longest active point streak against the Canucks among all NHL players:

Team Player Streak G A PTS

EDM Leon Draisaitl 21 16 18 34

NYI Mathew Barzal 10 3 14 17

TOR John Tavares 10 5 8 13

PIT Reilly Smith 9 5 7 12

NYI Brock Nelson 9 6 6 12

TOR William Nylander 9 3 8 11