It was a bittersweet cocktail with far more bitters for the Pittsburgh Penguins (3-3-2). On Wednesday, top-defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice, but Sidney Crosby, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Chad Ruhwedel entered the COVID protocol. All are confirmed positives. The beleaguered Penguins have lost three in a row and now get revamped rival, the Philadelphia Flyers (5-2-1).
Despite the Penguins division crown, the Flyers won the season series (5-3-0), and the Penguins were 3-4-1.
The Penguins lines and attitude will be a question mark. At some point, this must be discouraging, eh? At some point, the stream of injuries to the top of the lineup and the constant rolling of bad news like waves crashing onto the rocks must wear on a team.
“I’m sure (Crosby) is discouraged. He’s worked extremely hard to get to this point, and we were all so excited about getting him back in the lineup and just getting back in the fold, and this just kind of just puts another roadblock in front of him” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
We’ll find out at 5 p.m. if the Penguins have additional COVID positives and the Penguins starting goaltender. However, Tristan Jarry is assumed to start against his British Columbia buddy, Carter Hart.
What to Watch
Jeff Carter will assume to the top of the Penguins lineup with Jake Guentzel and Danton Heinen. Kasperi Kapanen, hanging around Sullivan’s doghouse, will resume skating with Evan Rodrigues at center and Jason Zucker on the left.
Kapanen often responds to Sullivan’s challenges and will be the Penguins player to watch on Thursday night. If Kapanen explodes, as he is capable, the Penguins will have a much-needed offensive spark.
If his struggles continue, the Penguins will need offense from further down the lineup. Teddy Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese, and Brock McGinn as the third line also need to chip in more than shutdown defense. Blueger scored a couple of goals in the first two games but hasn’t scored since. Aston-Reese appears to be getting his footing after a 20-day bout with COVID.
However, Philadelphia loaded up in the offseason, and they’re giving Derick Brassard what he wanted–a top-six role.
Pittsburgh Penguins fans may cringe, but Brassard is the Flyers’ second-line center. He has six points (1-5-6) in eight games. Top-line center Sean Couturier has been lighting up the scoreboard with 11 points (3-8-11) in the same eight games with Claude Giroux on the left-wing.
The Flyers are a revamped team with a new attitude and plenty of optimism.
Carter Hart has posted stout numbers (2.33 GAA and .928 save percentage), but the Penguins can beat him. His goals-saved-above average is well into the negatives, which means he’s getting good protection from the Flyers defense but still allowing some softies.
The Penguins have not made a goalie uncomfortable in a while and have scored just three goals in their last three games (all losses). They did not bump, obstruct or dishevel Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom in a 4-0 loss, nor did they disrupt Jonathan Bernier last Saturday in a 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
The Penguins need to find a way to the front of the net.
Also, something to watch–what did Mark Friedman do to his former team? They have hammered him with illegal and extra-legal hits since the Penguins claimed him on waivers last February. Nolan Patrick boarded Friedman (who was later injured trying to retaliate), and Ivan Provorov was suspended for a late hit on Friedman late last season.
Both sides will get their chance to say hello.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Rickard Rakell|
|Danton Heinen||Ryan Poehling||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Brock McGinn||Sam Poulin||Drew O'Connor|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||Jeff Petry|
|P.O Joseph||Jan Rutta|
Expected Philadelphia Flyers Lines, per PuckPedia.com:
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||24.1% (7-29, 11th)||72% (7-25, 28th)|
|Vancouver Canucks||22.2% (6-27, 17th)||60% (10-25, 32nd)|
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Position, Player, Status (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
F Evgeni Malkin, lower body (8 consecutive, 8 total)
F Bryan Rust, lower body (6 consecutive, 6 total)
D Kris Letang, COVID-19 protocol (4 consecutive, 4 total)
2021-22 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 35
*That total will climb by six games on Thursday without Sidney Crosby, Marcus Pettersson, Brian Dumoulin, and Chad Ruhwedel.
*The Penguins recalled Taylor Fedun from the WBS Penguins.
*The Penguins have points in six of their last seven home games versus the Flyers (4-1-2).
*Jake Guentzel has 19 points (5-14-19) in 19 career regular-season games against the Flyers. If you include postseason games, Guentzel has 32 points (11-21-32) in 25 games.
*Mark Friedman scored his first-career NHL goal against Philadelphia last season (March 4, 2021).
*Nine of the Penguins’ 26 goals (34.6%) have been scored by players who did not play a single game for the Penguins last season (Danton Heinen, 4; Brian Boyle, 2; Brock McGinn, 2; Dominik Simon, 1).
*Jeff Carter will play in his 1100th game on Thursday. He will be one of three active players with 1100 games and 400 goals.
Alex Ovechkin – 739 goals in 1,206 games
Joe Thornton – 426 goals in 1,686 games
Jeff Carter – 400 in 1,099 games
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet; Radio: 105.9 The X