Can Jared McCann help patch the massive hole in the middle of the Pittsburgh Penguins (18-11-1) lineup? The Penguins forward has missed five games due to injury, but head coach Mike Sullivan expects him back for Saturday. If McCann can, the Penguins game will be better positioned to face the New Jersey Devils (10-13-4) on Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center.
McCann gives the Penguins a second center with top-nine NHL quality while Teddy Blueger and Evgeni Malkin are out of the lineup.
After winning six straight, the Penguins have lost two in a row. They played without Malkin and Blueger on Thursday, as both were injured in the two-game Boston Bruins set on Monday and Tuesday.
The Penguins amassed an impressive 42 shots on goal but struggled to get second chances and sustained zone pressure and lost to New Jersey 3-2.
The losses shrunk the Penguins’ third-place lead in the East Division to one point over Boston and four points over Philadelphia. Both Boston and Philadelphia have two games in hand, and Boston will have even more in hand as their next two games are postponed due to players in the COVID protocol.
If the Penguins choose to play a gritty game near the crease on Saturday, they will need to get a little better at it.
“…then it boils down to just a complete level and a sense of urgency and making sure you gain body position,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of defending and attacking the net. “You tie up sticks and you compete on pucks, and I know we can be better in that area.”
Sullivan will put Casey DeSmith in net on Saturday. DeSmith is 6-3-0 in nine starts with a 2.22 GAA and .915 save percentage.
Given Scott Wedgewood’s performance on Thursday, he also seems to be a good bet to helm the crease.
On Friday, Sullivan also indicated the Penguins would have McCann in the lineup. He will be in the middle of the second line, presumably with Evan Rodrigues and Kasperi Kapanen.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Jason Zucker|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Evan Rodrigues|
|Radim Zohorna||Mark Jankowski||Colton Sceviour|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mike Matheson||Cody Ceci|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
Expected New Jersey Devils Lines
|Janne Kuokkanen||Jack Hughes||Yegor Sherangovich|
|Miles Wood||Pavel Zacha||Jesper Bratt|
|Mikhail Maltsev||Michael McCleod||Tyce Thompson|
|Andreas Johnsson||Jesper Boqvist||Nick Merkley|
|Ryan Murray||Damon Severson|
|Dmitry Kulikov||P.K. Subban|
|Ty Smith||Sami Vatanen|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||(28 for 125) 22.4% 10th NHL||(99 for 128) 77.3% 22nd NHL|
|Buffalo Sabres||(22 for 107) 20.6% 14th NHL||(87 for 111) 78.4% 20th NHL|
What to Watch
We’ll start with the styles. Will the Penguins try to grease it up, or will they attempt to return to the rush? The New Jersey Devils packed the box with five players, making it nearly impossible for the Penguins to get shots through or get the loose pucks.
Perhaps McCann will make a big difference, though history shows he’s a better defensive center than an offense driver from the middle. He is fast, and if the Penguins can get to the rush, they’ll be able to scramble the New Jersey defense, and those high-volume shots will probably have a few juicy rebounds left unprotected.
Or wingers Kasperi Kapanen, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust can finish the chances on the first try.
New Jersey also has the next to last penalty kill in the league. If the Penguins can get to their speed game and force New Jersey into the penalty box, they should put a digit or two on the scoreboard even with the Penguins’ inconsistent power play.
Also–watch how quickly Kapanen moves the puck from the midwall. After years of Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin deflating the puck, Kapanen’s swift returns surprised Letang.
On the other side, the Penguins must defend their net. New Jersey earned a couple of goals off deflections in front. One was flukey, but it counts. The Penguins admittedly have to tie up sticks, take bodies and get a better position.
“I think that’s where they won the game (Thursday). Essentially, they they were harder to play against in front of their net than we were,” Marcus Pettersson said on Thursday.
The Penguins did a solid job defending New Jersey’s primary offensive threat Kyle Palmieri. That will certainly need to continue.
Lastly, the afternoon doldrums. Teams can be thrown off rhythm and be flat in sunshiners, so which team will have their best legs?
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Position, Player (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
F Jason Zucker (13 consecutive, 13 total)
D Mark Friedman (8 consecutive, 8 total)
F Jared McCann (5 consecutive, 13 total)
F Teddy Blueger (2 consecutive, 2 total)
F Evgeni Malkin (1 consecutive, 1 total)
2020-21 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 160
*This is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fourth of nine sets of back-to-back games. This season, the Penguins are 4-2-0 in back-to-backs (3-0-0 the first night; 1-2-0 the second night)
*Mike Sullivan will be coaching his 400th Penguins game. Only Eddie Johnston (516) and Dan Bylsma (401) have spent more games behind the Pittsburgh bench than Sullivan.
*The Penguins will wear their reverse retro jerseys today.
*Since Feb. 18, Jarry is 9-3-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. His nine wins during that span are tied for second-most in the NHL.
*Tristan Jarry’s next win will be his 47th, and he’ll claim ninth place in Penguins history, moving past Johan Hedberg and Roberto Romano.
*Sidney Crosby has thrived in day games. The Penguins captain has the highest points-per-game average in day games among all active NHL players.
In 112 day games, Crosby has 57 goals, 94 assists (151 points), and a 1.35 points-per-game average.
Evgeni Malkin is second on the active list with a 1.26 points per game average and 144 points in 114 games.
*Penguins Taxi Squad:
F – Josh Currie D – Josh Maniscalco D – Yannick Weber G – Maxime Lagace
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet;
Radio: 105.9 The X