The Pittsburgh Penguins (39-22-6) lead the Carolina Hurricanes (36-25-5) by seven points for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. As long as the Penguins stay ahead of Carolina and the gaggle of teams just behind the wild-card teams, the Penguins will make their 13th consecutive playoff appearance. However, Penguins were thumped by the Washington Capitals, 5-2 on Saturday while Carolina helped themselves with a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.
A Penguins win in regulation would give them a nearly insurmountable nine-point lead with 13 games remaining, but a loss would pull Carolina within five points.
Carolina made big changes at the NHL trade deadline. They acquired Pittsburgh-native Vincent Trocheck, and legitimate top-four defensemen Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei. The changes were in part due to injury to defenseman Dougie Hamilton, but Carolina is only 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. The Penguins only 3-7-0 in their last 10.
Tristan Jarry will start in goal for the Penguins after Matt Murray was left out to dry against Washington. Jarry is 20-11-1 with a 2.32 GAA and a .924 save percentage this season. Since Jan. 10, he has a .910 save percentage, but Sunday could be a chance for him to claim a greater share of the Penguins net.
Alex Nedeljkovic is expected to start for Carolina. Nedeljkovichas played only three games this season and is 0-2-1 with a paltry .866 save percentage and a 3.46 goals against average. Regular goalies Petr Mrazek is still day-to-day after being run over in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, and James Reimer is still out.
The Carolina Hurricanes have struggled to find their footing. They boast a solid four-line rotation with centers Sebastian Aho, Trocheck, and Jordan Staal in the top three spots. Sophomore sensation Andrei Svechnikov, who was the 2018 second overall pick, has 60 points, including 24 goals in 66 games.
The Penguins will need a significantly more structured effort against Carolina. All four Penguins lines took the L after not covering pinching defensemen and losing defensive responsibilities. The defensemen didn’t play very well, either.
Whenever Penguins center Evgeni Malkin speaks, he usually follows it with a big game or month. Malkin spoke in blunt terms on Saturday.
Carolina does not play a hard, gritty game that SHOULD benefit the Penguins. However, in the past, Carolina’s team speed has pulled the Penguins into a sloppy track meet. The Penguins discipline will be the first key.
This will be the first meeting between the teams this season.
Carolina likes to play fast, as do the Penguins. The Penguins top line will likely draw the assignment of containing Aho, Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen. The Penguins top line wasn’t sharp or coordinated on Saturday, and if they chase Aho around the ice on Sunday, the Penguins will be in trouble.
Evgeni Malkin and Vincent Trocheck may find themselves nose to nose. Malkin tried to jumpstart the Penguins on Saturday, and linemate Patrick Marleau had several scoring chances.
“We think he’s getting more comfortable. I think he’s playing well. He just hasn’t scored,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Marleau.
The Penguins have the chance to be the more physical team, though the Penguins will not be confused with a heavy team. Physicality won’t play a deciding factor on Sunday.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Expected Penguins Lines
|Jason Zucker||Sidney Crosby||Conor Sheary|
|Patrick Marleau||Evgeni Malkin||Bryan Rust|
|Evan Rodrigues||Jared McCann||Patric Hornqvist|
|Brandon Tanev||Teddy Blueger||Sam Lafferty|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Jack Johnson||Justin Schultz|
Carolina Hurricanes Lines
|Andrei Svechnikov||Sebastian Aho||Teuvo Terravainen|
|Warren Foegele||Vincent Trocheck||Martin Necas|
|Brick McGinn||Jordan Staal||Justin Williams|
|Nino Neiderreiter||Morgan Geekie||Jordan Martinook|
|Joel Edmundson||Jaccob Slavin|
|Haydn Fleury||Brady Skjei|
|Jake Gardiner||Trevor Van Riemsdyk|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||20.3% (16th NHL)||82.4% (7th NHL)|
|New Jersey Devils||17.7% (22nd NHL)||82.0% (10th NHL)|
-Carolina is the final team that Pittsburgh has yet to play this season. Starting today, the two teams will square off four times in the next 21 days
-The Penguins are 4-1-1 in their last six games against the Hurricanes. Going back further, Pittsburgh is 11-3-1 in their last 15 games against Carolina dating back to Jan. 17, 2016
-When Kris Letang steps onto the ice this afternoon for his 807th career game, he will officially pass Jaromir Jagr for sole possession of fourth place on Pittsburgh Penguins all-time games played list. Only Sidney Crosby (982), Mario Lemieux (915) and Evgeni Malkin (905) have suited up for more games in a Penguins sweater.
-John Marino finished the game plus-1. He has been plus or even in six straight games.
-Hurricanes Assistant Coach Jeff Daniels played 134 games for the Penguins from 1990-94, posting 19 points (8g, 11a). Pittsburgh drafted Daniels in the sixth round, 109th overall, of the 1986 NHL Draft
-Justin Williams scored a goal at NYI on Saturday to extend his goal streak to three games (3g).