The Vegas Golden Knights (32-22-4) didn’t have a good time in Buffalo on Thursday. The former home of Jack Eichel booed every time he touched the puck, and the Buffalo Sabres beat Vegas 3-1. Friday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins (34-15-9) get the leftovers for the reeling Golden Knights, which are now barely clinging to a playoff spot.
The puck drops at PPG just after 7 p.m.
Vegas is only two points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for third place in the Pacific Division and has played one more game. They’ve lost seven of the 11 games Eichel has played.
The Penguins aren’t clicking on all cylinders either, but a playoff spot is all but assured. On Thursday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan rotated Kasperi Kapanen on the fourth line with Zach Aston-Reese. Kapanen could get a plate of press box nachos on Friday.
Evgeni Malkin will likely have at least one new linemate, Evan Rodrigues.
The Penguins lost to the Florida Panthers, fairly convincingly, 4-3 on Tuesday night. While the score may have been close, the Penguins scored both 5v5 goals within nine seconds, and Sidney Crosby scored with the extra attacker late in the third period. The Penguins lost two of their last three games, each to an Eastern Conference power.
Secondary scoring has gone arctic cold for the Penguins. Evan Rodrigues, Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen, Kapanen, and other middle-six insertions have not contributed offensively.
The Penguins’ top line with Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust has accounted for about 40% of the Penguins even-strength offense.
Of course, the NHL trade deadline looms, too. The Penguins trade targets seem to include the Vancouver Canucks, and the Buffalo Sabres. Penguins GM Ron Hextall will speak Friday morning.
The Vegas Golden Knights have sputtered since Eichel joined their lineup, and they are now in the thick of a playoff fight. If Edmonton passes them, they’re only one point ahead of the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card spot, but Dallas has three games in hand.
Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson was a full-go at practice on Thursday, but he skated with P.O. Joseph on the extra pairing, so he doesn’t figure to play on Friday. However, he is now day-to-day.
Due to a lower-body injury, Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner was sent back to Vegas on Thursday. Third goalie Logan Thompson is the likely starter for Vegas.
Tristan Jarry most likely starts for the Penguins.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Rickard Rakell||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jason Zucker||Jeff Carter||Danton Heinen|
|Brock McGinn||Teddy Blueger||Evan Rodrigues|
|Mike Matheson||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Mark Friedman||Chad Ruhwedel|
Expected Vegas Golden Knights Lines, per Puckpedia.com:
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes:
*The Vegas Golden Knights PP ranks 24th, the PK 18th. The Penguins power play has slipped back to 14th, and the PK to fourth.
*RECENT TRANSACTIONS Mar. 10 – F Valtteri Puustinen recalled from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL). Mar. 10 – F Corey Andonovski signed to a two-year, entry-level contract. Mar. 9 – F Kasper Bjorkqvist re-assigned to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL).
*The Penguins have points in 18 of 23 games against Western Conference opponents this season (13-5-5).
*In three career starts versus Vegas, Tristan Jarry is 2-1-0 with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.
*Among players who have played at least 45 games, only Winnipeg’s Dominic Toninato (13) has been on the ice for fewer even-strength goals against than Zach Aston-Reese (14).
*Evgeni Malkin has points in 11 of 12 home games that he’s played this season (5-8-13).
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As always, make a fortune betting against me. Having played last night, Vegas will be both angry and tired. They’re trying to figure it out with Jack Eichel, in much the same way the Penguins lineup is with Evgeni Malkin. With a third-goalie in net, we like the Penguins to cover, and we like the payout.
Moneyline: Penguins (-155), Vegas (+135).
Puck Line: +1.5 Penguins (+155), Vegas (-180).
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL Network; Radio: 105.9 The X