Photo credit:© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Scenes from morning skate: Cole returns, Demko starts as Canucks put three game win streak on line against Crosby and the Penguins
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks (27-11-3) open the second half of their National Hockey League season looking for a fourth straight victory when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins (20-15-4) at PPG Paints Arena. It’s a battle of two of the top five defensive teams in the National Hockey League.
The Canucks will make a couple of changes to the lineup that beat the New York Islanders 5-2 on Tuesday.
What we saw
After sitting out Tuesday, veteran Ian Cole returns to the Canucks lineup while Thatcher Demko gets back in net after serving as the back-up against the Islanders. Cole will replace Noah Juulsen on defence and partner with Nikita Zadorov. Demko was sharp posting 39 saves in a 6-3 win over the Rangers on Monday. He is 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts. The San Diego native has a new challenge tonight. He has never beaten Pittsburgh in three career starts going 0-3 with a 4.78 GAA and an .882 save percentage.
The Lotto Line continues to shred opponents combining for nine goals and 18 points in the three games since it was reunited in New Jersey on Saturday. Elias Pettersson has scored in three straight games (5 goals) and has seven goals in his five games so far in January. He also has the game-winning goal in each of the team’s past three victories. Brock Boeser scored his team-leading 25th goal of the season on Monday at Madison Square Garden. Over the years, he has had tremendous success against Pittsburgh with eight goals – including his first NHL hattrick – in nine career games against the Penguins
While the Lotto guys continue to hit the jackpot, the line of Pius Suter between Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev has yet to score on the road trip and has produced just two assists in three games playing together. The Canucks got goals from three defencemen on Tuesday night. It was the first time that has happened this season. The team had two goals from blueliners in its previous 15 games.
The Canucks have outscored opponents 17-9 on their three game win streak including 14-7 at five on five. However, they have gone four games without a power play goal and are just one for 10 (10%) in six games since Christmas. Elias Pettersson scored a PPG against Ottawa on January 2nd.
The Penguins have been off since a 4-1 win in Philadelphia on Monday. Evgeni Malkin led the way with a goal and an assist while Erik Karlsson, Rickard Rakell and Chad Ruhwedel had the other Pittsburgh goals. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 36 of 37 shots for the victory. He gets the call tonight and has started three of the Penguins last five games (and has appeared in four of the last five). He is 8-3-2 on the season with a 2.50 GAA and a .922 save percentage. In two career starts vs Vancouver, the 28-year-old is 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA, a .971 save percentage and a shutout.
The Pens are 5-2 since Christmas and 7-2-1 in their last 10 overall, however they have lost their last two at home. Jake Guentzel leads them in scoring with 44 points while Sidney Crosby holds the team lead in goals with 22 in 39 games. Guentzel, a pending unrestricted free agents who is drawing plenty of attention around the league, has a dozen goals in 11 career games against the Canucks.
Pittsburgh enters play tonight tied with New Jersey, Washington and Detroit – all a point behind Tampa Bay for the final wild card berth in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. The Penguins are a top five defensive team in the league allowing 2.69 goals per game – behind only Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Florida and the Canucks.
The Penguins have four players who have played over 1,000 NHL games on their roster and by season’s end that number could be six. Jeff Carter, (1282), Sidney Crosby (1229), Evgeni Malkin (1102) and Kris Letang (1044) have all reached the thousand game mark while Lars Eller (993) and Erik Karlsson (959) are closing in on the milestone.
Despite a collection of future Hall of Famers, the Penguins power play sits 25th in the NHL at 14.7%. That said, it has struck once in each of the Pens last four games.
The Canucks and Penguins share the NHL season high for goals in a game each scoring 10 in San Jose two days apart in early November. Speaking of Califorina, tonight’s game features the only two players in the league born in San Diego — Thatcher Demko and Chad Ruhwedel.
Tonight’s referees: Chris Schlenker & Frederic L’Ecuyer
What we heard
Rick Tocchet on facing the Penguins: “If you look at analytics, Pittsburgh is a really strong team. Anytime you have Sidney Crosby on your team, you’re always in it. He’s playing outstanding hockey. From afar I watch him and marvel at how his game doesn’t slip. How good he is.”
Tocchet on building on three straight wins: “When you raise the bar a little bit higher and higher, then come expectations. The discipline has to be more, the trust has to be more, everything has to be more when the bar has risen. And I think that’s something we’re going to ask this group to find more, and it’s hard to do because there’s only so many teams that win at the end of the year. Just got to keep pushing to raise that bar.”
Teddy Blueger (one of five former Penguins on Canucks roster) on clean sweep of New Jersey and two New York area teams: “I think it’s been good. You want to maintain that balance of having confidence and that good feeling but also making sure that after every game we reset. Each game is a new challenge. Pittsburgh has been playing great lately and obviously everyone knows the talent they have. So it’s going to be another tough game. I think we’ve done a good job of approaching each game as it comes and making sure we’re not too high or two low. Just continuing to stay discipline and hold each other accountable on those details that have made us good so far.”
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