PENS GAME #8: PENGUINS AT FLAMES
The Penguins are on their first multi-game win streak of the year, a perfect 2-0 to start their four city Canadian road trip, and riding that mini-momentum wave into Calgary to face the Flames.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4-1-2) at Calgary Flames (5-4) at Scotiabank Saddledome, in Calgary, Alberta at 9PM (EST)
After a headline grabbing outing in Edmonton where Sidney Crosby and the Pens shocked the league and current hockey darling Connor McDavid with a overtime finish out of a video game, the Penguins are facing what should be a much quieter match-up against the Flames.
The Pens are currently on a 2-game win streak and have earned at least 1 point in their last 5 games. The Calgary Flames however are not on quite as stable ground, they're coming off of a loss in their last game and have lost 2 of their last 3 overall. And while the Penguins have seen their struggling stars resurgence last game in Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, the Flames are still in search of some of theirs. Their big summer acquisition, ex-Pen James Neal has been mostly a non-factor, and other key players like Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund have not shown their best either.
This truly seems to be a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions facing off along the way. The Pens trending upwards, the Flames going down into the fire. That being said Calgary does have the one on one streak on their side. The Pens are 1-5 in their last 6 games against the Flames.
So on to the game details....
PENS BULLET POINTS
MATCH-UP INFORMATIONAL BREAKDOWN
Matt Murray: 24-years-old, 6’4”/178lb, 3 year NHL Veteran, 2012 Round 3 Draft Pick (Records- 2018-19: 3W-1L-0OTL in 4GP; Career: 71W-29L-8OTL in 115GP | Goals Against Average- 2018-19: 3.95; Last Season: 2.92; Career: 2.61)
Mike Smith: 36-years-old, 6’5”/220lb, 12 year NHL Veteran, 2001 Round 5 Draft Pick (Records- 2018-19: 3W-3L-0OTL in 6GP; Career: 223W-223L-66OTL in 535GP | Goals Against Average- 2018-19: 3.38; Last Season: 2.65; Career: 2.70)
Penguins: 10 Points, Metropolitan Division- 2nd, Eastern Conference- 6th
Flames: 10 Points, Pacific Division- 3rd, Western Conference- 8th
Penguins: 2 Wins
Flames: 1 Loss
Goals For & Against:
Penguins: Goals For- 26; Goals Against- 25
Flames: Goals For- 32; Goals Against- 27
Home vs. Away Records:
Penguins Away Record: 2-0-1
Flames Home Record: 2-1-0
Penguins Alumni for CGY: James Neal
Flames Alumni for PIT: Derek Grant, Head Coach Mike Sullivan
Penguins CGY Locals: None
Flames PIT Locals: None
Team Physical Averages:
Penguins: Average Size- 6'1"/199lbs; Average Age- 28.04
Flames: Average Size- 6'1"/199lbs; Average Age- 26.25
-Goals- #1-Kessel/Guentzel/Letang (4), #2-Malkin/Oleksiak (3), #3-Crosby/ Hornqvist (2)
-Assists- #1-Malkin (10), #2-Kessel (6), #3-Letang/Crosby (5)
-Points- #1-Malkin (13), #2-Kessel (10), #3- Letang (9)
-Shots- #1-Letang (23), #2-Hornqvist (20), #3-Guentzel (19)
-Goals- #1-Lindholm (6), #2-Gaudreau (5), #3-Monahan/Frolik (4)
-Assists- #1-Tkachuk (9), #2-Gaudreau (7), #3-Giordano (6)
-Points- #1-Gaudreau/Tkachuk (12), #2-Lindholm (9), #3-Monahan (8)
-Shots- #1-Gaudreau (29), #2-Giordano (25), #3-Backlund (24)
-Penguins vs. Flames History-
Cup Count: Pens- 5, Flames- 1
Season Series vs. Flames: First game, 0-0
Last Season Series vs. Flames: 1-1, 2OT (With 5 Goals For, 5 Goals Against)
All-Time Record vs. Flames: 45W-40L-18T-3OTL in 106GP
All-Time Record at Scotiabank Saddledome: 11W-15L-4T-2OTL in 32GP
PENS TALKING POINTS
KEY TOPICS RELATED TO THIS GAME
Keep Up With The Crosby
KEEPING SID SCORING IS PRIORITY #1
As we all saw with his spectacular, career-highlight reel, game-winning goal vs the Oilers, keeping Sidney Crosby performing at his peak is always the Pens’ biggest concern and best bet for winning. His game changing ability and capacity to pick the entire team and it’s playing tone up to a new level in the blink of an eye are simply that spectacular.
Just think about the scenario. That was his very first goal of the year. After a career-worst dry spell in season opening goal scoring. Basically, that was Sid at one of his lowest moments. And look what he conjured up in such a state. Pure magic.
His almost effortless goal stopped the Oilers, not in simply play but in will instantly. And had it not been overtime, that game surely would’ve been over at the moment, anyways. Not only did Sid jolt the ground that Edmonton stood on, his heroics halted the league in awe around North America like a wave. It went out moment after in an after-shock, as everyone caught clips of the goal online, on TV, or in arena and quickly passed the word along to others.
That kind of power is the single most important factor the Penguins have in their favor. Now that it’s been summoned I expect to see a great deal of new confidence not just for Crosby but all throughout the Pens lines vs. Calgary off of the high it’s caused. And all the better for Pittsburgh’s chances because of it.
Think something this elementary is too obvious and overstated? No, he's just that good this can't be repeated enough. Don't believe me? As further proof consider this factoid compiled by Pens Report friend and Penguins' historian Bob Grove per his Twitter: Sidney Crosby was named #1 Star Tuesday vs. Edmonton, the 300th time he's been named one of the three "3 Stars" in 871 regular season games played or 34.4% of his regular season career. He's been the #1 Star 130 times in that same span or 14.9% of his career.
THE PENS’ PUZZLING PERSONNEL DECISIONS
The Penguins are coming off of their first multi-game win streak of the year and are undefeated in the first half of this Canadian road trip as I mentioned atop the page. They capped their last game with a expertly executed ending. And yet they’re messing with that winning recipe. Tempting the devil when they’ve found combination that works after far too many of their games have been choppy, gone to unneeded overtime, or been lost late. They’ve definitely had defensive woes, no question, but ones in which the culprits have been easily identified. And yet those who struggling will remain the the Pens line-up while they bench the productive Daniel Sprong and Juuso Riikola against Calgary. (Sprong in particular was already only given 6 shifts and under 4 minutes of playing time vs. Edmonton, he simply wasn't even on ice enough to hurt the team. So there's even less reasoning for his exclusion.)
It’s simply illogical. Forward Derek Grant will play for Sprong, but lacks the skill he does. While Chad Ruhwedel is indeed an upgrade on defense, but not for the sitting Juuso Riikola, for the absolutely sinking Jack Johnson. Or even for the unsteady Olli Maatta.
Worse yet they’re sitting 2 of the Penguins’ youngest guns when facing a team filled with young talent that will have all the extra jump that youth injects into a roster. The Penguins are one of the league's older teams as is, subtracting fresher players for middle-career journeymen ages them all the more. Adding to the downsides of these moves. All while ignoring the team’s biggest problems. This shake-up just for the sake of adding some new players in to the mix could cost the Pens dearly.
Just Ax Jack
JACK JOHNSON NEEDS BENCHED NOW
The last key factor to the Penguins’ winning as stated in the prior passage doesn’t appear as if it’s going to happen tonight. Defenseman Jack Johnson is projected to play according to the lines used at the Pens’ morning skate. Johnson is almost single-handedly responsible for some of the worst of the Penguins’ poor play lately. He needed benched games ago, tonight, or ASAP whenever it can happen. It just needs to happen.
Johnson has been on defense for the last 5 straight goals against the Pens. That’s in addition to the last 7 of 8 goals against overall and 9 of the last 12. These patterns go back into the last 5 games. So we can state with some certainty, as long as he remains on the ice the Penguins are at risk of losing control of a game at anytime. He’s fundamentally unable to function right now and the coaches are refusing to use him in the least amount possible making him an unmanageable hurdle to their success.
FINAL NOTES ON THE GAME
-Pens have yet to lose on the road in regulation 2-0-1. And they only have 1 regulation loss at all on the year.
-With his improbable 2-goal game on Tuesday, big defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is suddenly tied with Evgeni Malkin for 2nd place in Pens' goal scoring leaders. (Go figure!)
-Some record notes- the Pens are 6-1 in their last 7 vs. Western Conference teams. As well as 8-3 in their last 11 road games.
-The Flames meanwhile are 1-4 in their last 5 games against Metro Division teams.
-Calgary goalie Mike Smith is currently perfectly “Even Steven”: 3-3 in W-L on the season, and 223-223 in W-L (plus 66OTL) in his career.
EXTRA MISC. THOUGHTS & INFO
*Again a special congrats to Sidney Crosby on his 130th career #1 Star honor earned on Tuesday vs. Edmonton.
*Best wishes to former Cup-winning Pen Oskar Sundqvist, who’s finally returning to playing tonight for St. Louis after being injured by another illegal and abominable hit from the Capital’s Tom Wilson back during the pre-season. I’m sure I speak for all Pens fans in saying we wish Oskar much success and a very long, healthy career. (And that we wish the exact opposite for Tom Wilson and any team who employs him.)
*Wilson, by the way, has had his 20 game suspension upheld on appeal and unquestionably, rightly so.
*The WBS Pens are back in action tomorrow vs. the Hershey Bears at home in Wilkes at 7:05PM.
For more from Pens Report be sure to follow us on social media too! On Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram.
Have any questions? Suggestions? News tips? For those and any other inquiries you can get in touch with Pens Report by email at firstname.lastname@example.org