After a disappointing shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night at home, the Penguins travel to Motown to face the Detroit Red Wings (6:00 p.m. ET, SN, ROOT, FS-D).
According to Bill Roose, the Managing Editor for DetroitRedWings.com, this will be Detroit’s 68th game on New Year’s Eve (fourth against the Pittsburgh Penguins). Out of the three meetings, the Penguins walked away victorious in two of them.
This is the first meeting of the year between the Red Wings and Penguins. Last year when these two teams met, however, Detroit triumphed in two of the three games against Pittsburgh.
Leading up to tonight’s contest, both teams have slipped in their play of late.
In the month of December for Pittsburgh, they are 4-7-2 in 13 games thus far, including a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 games. In last night’s game versus the Maple Leafs, Sidney Crosby led the charge as he was responsible for both goals with a goal and an assist of his own. Matt Murray manned the crease in their fourth game in the last five. He stopped 34 out of 36 shots, but Maple Leafs forward P.A. Parenteau notched the game-winning goal in the shootout.
There was no morning skate for the Penguins today after a late arrival to Detroit. However, there is reasonable expectation that Jeff Zatkoff will start after Murray played in four of the last five games. After leaving briefly from the game when he was boarded by Leo Komarov, Kris Letang returned to action and finished the game. According to NHL.com Correspondent Wes Crosby, Letang is on track to play consecutive games for the first time since late November and Early December.
Dec 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak (46) knocks the puck away from Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72) in the third period of an NHL hockey game at Consol Energy Center. Toronto won 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit is losers of two straight games and three of their last four. They lost to the New Jersey Devils at home 4-3, defeated the Nashville Predators 3-2 at Bridgestone Arena on the strength of two Brendan Smith goals, and then fell short against the Wild and Winnipeg on the road. In their last game against Winnipeg, Jimmy Howard started in goal but did not survive the game. He was pulled after giving up four goals on 14 shots, and Petr Mrazek recorded 11 saves on as many shots in a relief effort.
There are a few lineup changes for the Red Wings tonight. After missing five games due to an upper-body injury, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson will return to the lineup, according to head coach Jeff Blashill. He also stated that defenseman Jakub Kindl will become a healthy scratch and Petr Mrazek will start in goal after a good showing against the Jets in relief.
Tonight’s Goalie Matchup
Petr Mrazek gets the nod from Jeff Blashill in tonight’s matchup. The Ostrava, CZE, native has posted an 11-7-3 record (2.23 GAA, .927 save percentage) in 23 games, including an 11-save outing in relief against the Winnipeg Jets. In his last start, however, Mrazek was tagged for two goals against out of 34 shots against the Minnesota Wild. In two career games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mrazek is 1-1 with a 3.00 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
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Conventional wisdom makes it likely that Jeff Zatkoff starts against the Red Wings. His last start was a loss at the expense of the Winnipeg Jets in a 1-0 affair where the lone goal was a penalty shot. Zatkoff’s struggles are apparent as he is 0-4-1 in his last five starts. His last win was November 6 against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place where he turned away 27 of 28 shots in a 2-1 victory.
Players to watch
Pavel Datsyuk has a two game goal streak, recording the lone goals against Minnesota and Winnipeg. After poor performances from the team in general, Sidney Crosby was no exception. However, Crosby picked up his production of late registering seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last five games.
Keys to the game
Continue to believe in the process
Even though the team produces unfavorable results, the Penguins are not playing terrible hockey. It isn’t great, but they have shown flashes of good play. Head coach Mike Sullivan revitalized this team when he was hired as the bench boss and the team is playing harder and the leaders have responded. Pittsburgh has to create their own bounces but I believe luck will fall on their side sooner than later.
Don’t feed into Detroit’s transition game
The Red Wings possess a lot of speed in their forward ranks and the Penguins will tread in dangerous waters if they turn the puck over in the neutral zone and feed Detroit’s transition game. Their defensemen, particularly Mike Green, are mobile two-way defenders that swiftly shovel the biscuit to their forwards. Players such as Gustav Nyqvist, Tomas Tatar, Darren Helm, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk can burn teams with a blend of speed and playmaking.
Utilize the boards
The boards at Joe Louis Arena are lively and the puck bounces off of the yellow at a high rate of speed. This could benefit the Penguins as they can use them to run set plays to spring players free and it fits right into their speed game since the flow is consistent. Since the boards are like that, this also means that either Zatkoff or Murray will have to be smarter on when to play pucks and when to stay at home.