And the next chapter of the Pittsburgh Penguins (20-9-5) season likely begins on Tuesday at the Honda Center against one of the surprise teams of the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks (19-12-7). Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is likely to make his season debut after serious knee surgery in June sidelined him for at least six months.
Malkin took like rushes on Monday at practice with Jeff Carter on the left wing, so the Penguins lines might appear jumbled in the absence of right-wings Brock McGinn and Bryan Rust, or any other COVID absences.
At the time of publishing, the players in COVID protocol are Rust, McGinn, and backup goalie Casey DeSmith. On Tuesday, Zach Aston-Reese and Danton Heinen were added to the protocol. Aston-Reese is asymptomatic.
On Saturday, the Penguins’ 10-game winning streak was snapped against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. The Penguins played with 11 forwards and seven defensemen after Rust and McGinn entered protocol before the game, and the Penguins didn’t have a Taxi Squad forward available.
The team had a 2-1 lead after two periods, but Dallas scored a pair of late goals, each near the crease, for a 3-2 win.
The Anaheim Ducks have several players in COVID protocol, including goalie John Gibson: Sam Carrick (Jan. 6), John Gibson (Jan. 6), Hampus Lindholm (Jan. 6), Vinni Lettieri (Jan. 6).
What to Watch:
The Penguins had some tired legs on Saturday, whether they admitted it or not. An extra day off and some California sunshine should add a little spark to the Penguins’ step.
Having 12 forwards should also help. It was a calamity of bad luck and a questionable decision to send Anthony Angello and Radim Zohorna back to the WBS Penguins before the road trip, thus removing all forwards from the Taxi Squad.
The Penguins lines and blue line lacked continuity as forwards shuffled in and out of the fourth line, and coaches rotated seven defensemen, including Mark Friedman.
GM Ron Hextall rectified the matter by adding Angello and Zohorna back to the Taxi Squad on Monday.
Anaheim has been a Cinderella this season. They’re young. They play fast and loose with considerable skill. Ryan Getzlaf recently returned to their lineup and helms the top line with Sonny Milano and Troy Terry.
Milano has found a home with this Ducks team after bouncing between the AHL and NHL for the past six seasons (and a movie) with Columbus and Anaheim. He has 24 points (9-15-24) in 33 games.
DeSmith and the Penguins shut down Anaheim at PPG Paints Arena, just before their early holiday break and pandemic pause. The Penguins won 1-0 on Dec. 11.
But all eyes will be on Evgeni Malkin. It appears coaches will play him with Jeff Carter on the left and Kasperi Kapanen on the right, but lines are always subject to change at a moment’s notice. To the best of our knowledge, we don’t recall the right-handed Carter spending much, if any, time on the left in his career (but many of you have a better memory than me on such matters).
Possible 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|
Anaheim Ducks Lines, per PuckPedia.com:
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes:
*The Penguins PK remains tops in the NHL (8-83, 90.4%, 1st). The power play, not so much (17-97, 17.5%, 22nd).
*The Anaheim Ducks special teams both rank near the top. Their PK is third (15-106, 85.8%, 3rd), and the PP is fourth (28-102, 27.5%, 4th).
*Troy Terry (22-14-36 in 37 GP) ranks tied for third in goals (22), tied fourth in even-strength goals (16), and tied second in GWG (5) among NHL leaders.
*Evan Rodrigues’ six power-play goals are tied for ninth in the NHL, with four in the last seven games. Since Dec. 14, only Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat (6) has more power-play goals than Rodrigues.
*Seven of Danton Heinen’s nine goals this season have come on the road.
*When Malkin hits the ice for the first time, he’ll join Sidney Crosby (17), Mario Lemieux (17), and Kris Letang (16) as the only players in franchise history to skate 16 seasons with the team.
Malkin’s stats are among franchise leaders: 940 games played (2nd), 424 goals (4th), 680 assists (3rd), and 1,104 points (3rd).
*The Penguins are 18-2-0 when scoring first and have won the first period in nine of the last 11 games.
Pittsburgh Penguins Betting Odds
Moneyline: Penguins -180. Anaheim +145
Spread 1.5: Penguins +143, Anaheim -175
Bet we like Over 7: +250.
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How to Watch
TV: AT&T Sportsnet; Radio: 105.9 The X