PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Amalie Arena. Tampa, FL
7:30 PM. ATTSN & NHL.TV free game of the night
A common theme for the Penguins this year is that they are playing a game following a game the night before. The team has 19 back-to-backs this season, tonight marking their second. Even without 4 of the first 5 games being played in back-to-back scenarios, the Penguins have not had an easy schedule to start their season. Opening with two Western conference playoff teams, followed by the Stanley Cup runner-up, the Presidents trophy winners, and finishing with a team that a lot of people have picked to win the East this year. Escaping those 5 games with 5 points would be considered a success in my opinion based on the combination of it being the beginning of the season, a second short offseason, and the loss of 50% of the teams centers.
So now the Penguins are in Tampa taking on Steven Stamkos and the Lightning. I’m not sure how the Lightning are even still surviving after shipping off Mr. Work Ethic extraordinaire Jonathan Drouin to Montreal over the offseason. Tampa went 2-1-0 in the first week of the season and haven’t played since beating Washington 4-3 on October 9th. It’s no secret that the success of Tampa is heavily influenced by the health of Steven Stamkos. They also have the benefit of playing in the significantly weaker of the two divisions in the Eastern Conference. Other than the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs the Lightning have limited competition for the top spot of the Atlantic.
Despite the game yesterday I’m not sure Mike Sullivan makes too many changes. With the addition of Hornqvist he scratched Scott Wilson, who could potentially get back into the lineup if someone needs a rest, though with Ryan Reaves getting just over 6 minutes and Tom Kuhnhackl getting 7 I don’t know if anyone needs to rest. Ian Cole also travelled with the team to Tampa, but there is no indication that he will play over Ruhwedel tonight, Ruhwedel was sheltered by Sullivan last night and only played 10:59. The Antti Niemi Experience will be back in the crease so maybe you should go to the liquor store now. It’s a big game for Niemi, who coming from the Stars already had psychosocial problems and now probably has PTSD following his first outing as a Penguin.
Who to Watch
For Pittsburgh: Hagelin-Malkin-Kessel
This line has been together for two full games now, and last night Carl Hagelin was flying. You just get the feeling that with the speed of Hagelin and Kessel something is going to open up for the big G eventually, and the third straight game playing together feels like a good time for that. Last night against Washington this line was very good at cycling the puck and it is only a matter of time before that cycling results in Malkin or Jessel being wide open.
For Tampa: Chris Kunitz
On February 26th 2009 Ray Shero traded Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks for Chris Kunitz and killer winger prospect. Kunitz would continue on to help the Penguins win the cup in 2009. And again in 2015. And again in 2016. Though he was signed to a ridiculous deal that made him a whipping boy for his final years in Pittsburgh, you can’t fault the guy for signing a contract. Tonight marks the first time the Penguins will play against Kunitz after his 9 years with the Penguins came to a close this offseason. Thanks for the memories Chris, I’m sure you will be a pain in the ass, hit everything that moves, and finish every single check until I hate your guts tonight.
The Penguins are coming off a rivalry game against Washington followed by a flight to Tampa. The Lightning have been off since Monday. This game will be free on nhl.tv for those of you that don’t read the gameday info in the header.