Key Observations Heading Into Game 11 Between the Penguins and Wild

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The Pittsburgh Penguins (7-2-1) spent the majority of the month of October at home, but will now play five straight games on the road to begin November. The first game of those five will be a good test, against the 7-3 Minnesota Wild. The Penguins will look to win their fifth consecutive game and snap the Wild’s three game winning streak. So far, the Wild have gone 5-0 at the Xcel Energy Center.

Head Coach Mike Yeo has done a great job so far this year with the Wild. A big part of their success at this point of the season has been goaltender Darcy Kuemper. At the beginning of the season, Yeo was not sure who would be his starting goalie, but Kuemper has answered that question now. The 24 year-old has a 6-2 record with a .930 save-percentage and a 1.66 goals-against average. The Wild have only allowed 18 goals in 10 games so far, which is the fewest in the NHL.

The Wild have basically crowned themselves as the kings of NHL free agency by signing the likes of Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek the past few summers. Vanek, who signed with Minnesota this past summer, has been playing on the Wild’s third line recently, which is crazy to think about knowing how dangerous Vanek can be. The former University of Minnesota star has registered 1 goal and 7 assists so far this season. Vanek has good numbers against Pittsburgh in his career, notching 15 goals and 9 assists in 32 career games against the Penguins.

One fun battle to watch tonight will be Sidney Crosby and Parise, who are good friends. Crosby, the Penguins’ all-time leading scorer against the Wild, leads the NHL with 18 points and was named the NHL’s Second Star for October. His line with Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz has developed into one of the best in hockey this year. Parise, who was the captain of the New Jersey Devils before signing with Minnesota, has been playing like a captain for the Wild so far this year. His 10 points (4 goals and 6 assists) leads the Wild. The 30 year-old winger has registered 15 goals and 9 assists in 45 career games against Pittsburgh. 5 of those 15 goals were game winners.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been playing lights out to start the season as he was just named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week. Fleury is 4-0 in his past 4 games with 3 shutouts and a 0.75 goals-against average. Fleury and Kuemper are tied for the NHL lead in shutouts with 3. While Fleury is having a great year so far, he has an 0-5 record against Minnesota and may not start tonight. Thomas Greiss was the first goalie off the ice at the morning skate today, which suggests he will start in goal for the Penguins. Greiss has only appeared in one game this season: a 4-3 overtime loss in Detroit on October 23rd. Therefore, he will look to get his first win in a Penguins uniform tonight.

Center Evgeni Malkin has also gotten off to a good start this season, especially considering the fact that he missed training camp. Malkin currently owns an NHL-leading 10-game point streak. He also leads the league in power play goals with 5. Only 5 of Malkin’s 15 points have come at even strength. Speaking of the power play, the Penguins’ unit has been clicking at an incredible 41.9%. While we know that number will go down as time goes on, it sure has been fun to watch this team with the extra man. The 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens currently own the NHL record for the best power play at 31.88%.

With defenseman Olli Maatta out for about four weeks, tonight will be the first time the Penguins will have a player dress that has not dressed for the first 10 games of the season. That’s crazy to think about, considering Pittsburgh’s struggles with the injury bug in the past few years. Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will most likely make his season debut tonight in place of Maatta after getting injured in the preseason. Bortuzzo will most likely play alongside Christian Ehrhoff while Paul Martin will move up to the top pairing with Kris Letang. Martin and Letang played well together last year during the playoffs. Head Coach Mike Johnston did not want to break up the pairing of Rob Scuderi and Simon Despres, which is why Bortuzzo will play with Ehrhoff. Young and promising defenseman Scott Harrington was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton again and could make his NHL debut on this road trip.

The Wild and Penguins split their two-game series last season, with Minnesota outscoring Pittsburgh 6-5 in the two games.