The hot and ice-cold Pittsburgh Penguins (10-8-5) are in the midst of a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) that is giving back the gains of the five-game winning streak which preceded the losing. The team dropped the first two games on the western road trip, losing in a seven-round shootout to Calgary and succumbing to the offensive wave of the Edmonton Oilers.
The Penguins visit the struggling Vancouver Canucks (8-14-2) on Saturday. The Canucks have won two straight but are under a cloud of a potential organizational shakeup. There have been reports the Canucks are asking permission to speak with head coaching candidates, and GM Jim Benning remains under an intense spotlight.
On Wednesday, the Penguins spoke of the good things after their 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. The Penguins largely dominated the second period and had ample scoring chances, but Edmonton’s Connor McDavid appled three odd-man breaks after Penguins mistakes. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan benched Kasperi Kapanen in the third period, too.
Friday, Kapanen spent time on the third line, and it appears Sullivan was juggling lines and combinations through the practice.
Rookie Drew O’Connor may slot in as well. We’ll update the story if head coach Mike Sullivan gives any answers after the morning skate.
What to Watch
During their five-game winning streak, the Pittsburgh Penguins disposed of the Canucks 4-1. Tristan Jarry made key saves, and the Penguins pulled away buy finishing chances in the second period.
The Penguins game is high-risk, high reward. When they play well, they win. When they’re off their game, they don’t. The added wrinkle this season has been the inability to finish chances. The second line with Jason Zucker, Jeff Carter, and Kapanen has been especially dry.
Sullivan couched his criticism, but it was evident.
“Collectively, I think they could be better at hunting pucks and just working collectively to control territory, give themselves an opportunity to create offense in different ways–I think they get a number of chances off the rush,” Sullivan said Wednesday night. “I think that line could do a little bit better job in the offensive zone, just establishing a down-low game. And they’re very capable. They have good size and good strength, and they’re gritty…So they have all the attributes to have a very effective down-low game. And that’s an area I think where they haven’t been quite as consistent.”
Offense in the middle of the Penguins lineup would go a long way, but getting Sidney Crosby on his path would be another necessity.
A soft team like Vancouver is the perfect cure.
We’ll lay out the lines but give some room for error. Sullivan left a lot of room for guessing.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins lines
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Danton Heinen||Evgeni Malkin||Evan Rodrigues|
|Dominik Simon||Jeff Carter||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Brian Boyle||Teddy Blueger||Brock McGinn|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Mike Matheson||Chad Ruhwedel|
Expected Canucks Lines, Per PuckPedia.com
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||15.1% (11-73) 27th NHL||92.2% (5-64) 1st NHL|
|Anaheim Ducks||26.3% (20-76) 5th NHL||86.3% (10-76) 3rd NHL|
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
*The Penguins are 3-2-4 against Western Conference opponents this season.
*Jake Guentzel has points in every road game this season (10GP, 7-5-12). His season-opening 10-game road point streak is one shy of the longest such streak in franchise history held by teammate Evgeni Malkin (11 GP in 2008-09). Going back to last season, he has points in each of his last 11 road games (8G-7A).
*Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to four games (1G-5A) with an assist.
*Defenseman Marcus Pettersson’s plus-11 on the season is tied for eighth in the NHL among defensemen.
*Jake Guentzel has an 11-game scoring streak (7-5-12). It is the longest active streak in the NHL.
*Zach Aston-Reese had eight hits on Wednesday against Edmonton, extending his total on the season to a team-high 80. His 80 hits are currently the sixth-most in the NHL.
*The Penguins penalty kill unit has killed off 22-straight opposing penalties over nine games.
How to Watch
TV: AT&T Sportsnet, CBC; Radio: 105.9 The X