PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS SAN JOSE SHARKS
THE PAINT CAN. PITTSBURGH, PA.
7:00 PM EST. ATTSN
The Penguins are set for their rematch against the Sharks after a 4 day break for the All-Star weekend. If you recall, the Pens played in San Jose about a week ago and were completely stonewalled by Aaron Dell who finished the game with 76 saves or something. After the win the Sharks beat the Ducks the following night 6-2 before dropping consecutive games to the Jets (in OT) and the Rangers, a 4 game scenario that fits in perfectly with their 5-3-2 run in their last 10 which has roughly been their pace all season. Tonight is the 49th game of the year for the Sharks, and if we multiple this 5-3-2 10 game stretch by 5 for 50 games their record would be 25-15-10 which isn’t too far off from their current 26-15-7 overall record. San Jose currently sits 2nd in the Pacific, 9 points behind Vegas in first and 2 points ahead of both the Kings and the Ducks, two teams currently sitting outside of the Wild Card position.
Though San Jose is in the thick of their own division race they will get no sympathy from anyone reading this post as the Penguins have enough schedule drama to hold all of us over. Following the above mentioned loss in San Jose on January 20th the Pens returned home for wins against the Hurricanes and the Wild to bring their January record to 8-3-0 with tonight serving as their final game of the month. The month has already been the most successful for the Penguins who have also turned in records of 7-5-1 in October and 6-5-2 in November before stumbling to a 6-8-0 mark in December. Just looking at those totals also explains why the Penguins are playing their 52nd game despite most teams not even playing 50 yet; the team played 13 games in each of the first two months only to increase that load to 14 in December and we can only give thanks to the bye week and the All-Star Weekend for the Pens only having 12 matchups scheduled in January. Don’t get too comfy though Pens fans, the team only has 12 games in February too so the NHL thought it would be cool to make 6 of those back-to-back scenarios with 2 of the three weekend back-to-backs requiring travel. Just in case you still think the schedule will lighten up for the defending champs I will tell you it doesn’t, as they play 15 games in the 31 days of March, receiving a 2 day rest twice and one 4 day break.
What I am trying to illustrate with the above paragraph is that if it seemed like the team wasn’t in it 100% through December and that made you mad then it’s time to step back. This team has a lot of hockey to play and a short time to do so, in fact from today to the end of March the team would’ve completed 28 games in 61 days which breaks down to 33 “off” days. I will gladly take the team not being fully committed at Winnipeg in November if that is exchanged with them rolling out 9 or 10 wins in March. It’s not going to be easy, it never was with a back-to-back championship target on your back, but maybe waking up on January 1st out of a playoff position was exactly what the team, and especially the aging stars focusing on their dynasty, needed.
Before the break we saw the scratching of Ryan Reaves thanks to Bryan Rust returning to the lineup and no, that sentence shouldn’t make any god damn sense to you. In their last game against the Wild the pens were ferocious on the forecheck and turned in a ton of time in the “attack zone” which are two reasons why I would be shocked to see any changes up front. The team practiced with the same lines as in the graphic yesterday so I feel it is safe to assume these will be the starters. One thing that happened in that game that a lot of people aren’t talking about was the decision by Sullivan and Martin to evenly distribute defensive minutes. The Penguins have been deploying their defense in a staggered pattern all season with Letang receiving 25ish minutes, Dumoulin around 23, the second pair at 20 and the third in the 15’s-17’s. After finally realizing that maybe Letang is trying a little too hard making himself vulnerable to poor decisions the crew distributed the minutes in the Wild game as follows curtesy of http://www.hockeyviz.com:
22 minutes for the top pairing, 20 for the second, 18 for the third. I am all for this distribution of playing time especially as the schedule starts to ramp up again in March. I’m sure jumping out to a 6-0 lead had a lot to do with playing time but I hope the team considers moving forward with this model. The only other position left to discuss is between the pipes, it has been 13 days since the passing of Matt Murray’s father and though he is with the team it is completely up to him to decide when he wants to return. The Pens don’t have a back-to-back situation until the 2nd and 3rd of February so the immediate decision isn’t too pressing for Murray and the Penguins.
As for the Sharks, if you watched any of the previous matchup you have a general idea of who they are and what they bring. Burns leads the team in points with 41 while also posting a team worse -21 and Couture leads the team in goals with 20 followed by Hertl’s 14. The story of the Sharks is in net, after Martin Jones (14-11-4, 2.68 GAA, .910 sv%) went down with an injury Aaron Dell (12-4-3, 2.51 GAA, .917 sv%) has saved the day. With the Sharks needing every point they can get in a tight Pacific race I think it would be tough to go against Dell right now.
WHO TO WATCH
FOR PITTSBURGH: SIDNEY CROSBY
In the previous meeting Crosby was throwing everything he could at Aaron Dell only to come up empty handed. We all know that Sid hasn’t slept more than 3 hours a night since then because he has been studying every save and goal against Dell so far this season. He is stuck at 399 career goals, and doesn’t it just feel perfect for #400 to go in the night after Jaromir Jagr leaves the NHL?
FOR SAN JOSE: AARON DELL
It isn’t often that I feature a goalie here, let alone a backup goalie but Dell is the reason the Sharks won the last meeting. He was almost perfect in that game and he will have to duplicate that effort if the Sharks want to be successful again. I don’t feel like the Sharks can skate with the Pens for a full 60 minutes if the Pens bring their “A” game, but we have already witnessed that a goalie can stop the Pens regardless of how well they are skating. Crosby vs Dell, I’m here for it.
I talked about how the schedule in March isn’t going to lighten up for the Penguins, so there isn’t a better time to take advantage of playing hard with a few days off after than tonight and February. The team has looked like the team we cheered for into June the last two calendar years recently, and when they play that way they are a tough team to beat.