And so it begins. The 2020-21 NHL season in which owners will lose billions, players will give back millions, but the good of the game compelled everyone to this moment. The season begins today as the Pittsburgh Penguins (0-0-0) visit the Philadelphia Flyers(0-0-0) in the first game on the NHL schedule.
When the puck drops at 5:30 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center, it will be televised for a national TV audience. Pittsburgh fans can watch the game on NBCsn (Comcast channel 848, Fios Channel 590).
The Penguins last played Philadelphia in an exhibition game in the Toronto bubble before the NHL postseason. Philadelphia won 3-2 in OT. Scott Laughton beat Tristan Jarry on a breakaway for the game-winner.
Jason Zucker scored the tying goal later in the third period when he finished an Evgeni Malkin Rebound. Then-Pittsburgh Penguins winger Conor Sheary scored the first-ever NHL goal in July with his first-period goal.
Pittsburgh Penguins Changes
The Penguins revamped their D-core but letting Justin Schultz leave via free agency and buying out (trigger warning) Jack Johnson. The Penguins traded their 2020 first-round pick to Toronto for winger Kasperi Kapanen. The clubs also swapped prospects in the deal.
Also, the Penguins traded Nick Bjugstad to the Minnesota Wild for a conditional draft pick. The team signed free-agent center Mark Jankowski, winger Evan Rodrigues, and defenseman Cody Ceci. The Penguins traded Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan did not divulge his lineup, but we have a rough idea based on the past several days of training camp. One variable will be the Penguins blue line. Sullivan and assistant coach Todd Rierden paired elite skating the lefty Matheson with righty John Marino on the second pair, and put Marcus Pettersson on the third pair with newcomer Ceci.
Sullivan did not commit to the pairings for game action, so we could see the coaches revert to Pettersson with Marino and Matheson with Ceci, which were the pairings at the start of training camp.
The game will also feature a pair of young goalies who had breakout years. Tristan Jarry, 25, claimed the Penguins net with a stellar 2019-20 season in which he was also an NHL All-Star. Philadelphia Flyers netminder Carter Hart, 22, is often mentioned as a Vezina candidate this season.
Hart finished last season with a .914 save percentage, and Jarry posted a .921 percentage. Both finished their second NHL season and first full year at the top level.
Kasperi Kapanen is still in NHL quarantine protocols after arriving from Finland on Saturday. He will not be available this week. Also, Zach Aston-Reese is on LTIR but reportedly skating. Aston-Reese is expected back in February after offseason left shoulder surgery.
UPDATED BEFORE GAME TIME:
Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker — Evgeni Malkin — Bryan Rust
Jared McCann — Mark Jankowski — Brandon Tanev
Sam Lafferty — Teddy Blueger — Colton Sceviour
Brian Dumoulin — Kris Letang
Mike Matheson — John Marino
Marcus Pettersson — Cody Ceci
Former second overall pick Nolan Patrick returns to the NHL after missing all last season due to a migraine disorder.
Erik Gustafsson is the only player in the lineup who is new to the organization. Defenseman Matt Niskanen retired during the offseason.
The Philadelphia Flyers have won four season openers in a row. All have been either on the road or, in last year’s case, a neutral-site game in Prague vs. Chicago in which they were the home team. This is the first time the Flyers have opened the season at the Wells Fargo Center since October 2013.
Winger Oskar Lindblom has continued his recovery from a diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma in December of 2019. The treatment and recovery were forecast to sideline him the entire season with the possibility of a return at 2020 training camp. The COVID-19 stoppage and subsequent delay in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs allowed him to recover in time to join the Flyers in the Toronto playoff bubble, where he made his return to the ice in Game 6 of the Second Round series vs. the New York Islanders.
Philadelphia Flyers Lines
Oskar Lindblom — Sean Couturier — Travis Konecny
Clade Giroux — Kevin Hayes — Joel Farabee
James van Riemsdyk — Nolan Patrick — Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl — Scott Laughton — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Ivan Provorov-Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim- Philippe Myers
Robery Hägg- Erik Gustafsson
The Penguins lost four of five games inside the NHL’s Toronto bubble, including the Qualifying Round to the Montreal Canadiens (3-1).
Philadelphia finished last season on an 18-5-1 run, won all three round-robin games in the NHL bubble, beat Montreal 4-2 in Round One, and lost to the New York Islanders (4-2) in Round Two.
Last season, the Penguins won the season series against Philadelphia by winning two of the three games. The Penguins beat Philadelphia 7-1 on Oct. 29, lost 3-0 on Jan. 21, and beat Philadelphia 4-3 in OT on Jan. 31.
Sidney Crosby led the Penguins with six points in three games against Philadelphia. Crosby had a pair of three-point games (1g, 2a) against Philadelphia to lead all scorers in the season series.
Five Philadelphia skaters tied for the team lead with two points against the Penguins.
Against the Penguins last season, Philadelphia goalie Brian Elliott was 1-1-1, with one shutout and an .850 save percentage.
Jarry was 1-1-0 with .915 SV%.
Sidney Crosby has 105 points in 70 career games against Philadelphia. Evgeni Malkin has 73 points in 58 games.
Never Tell Me the Odds:
The Penguins are a 1.5 goal underdog, and the over/under is six. Given the talent, lack of training camp, and national TV audience, we like the over. Someone is going off.
Our friends at Bet MGM are offering a $500 Deposit Match.
The two teams will battle again in Philadelphia on Friday.