December 16, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - PPG Paints Arena
TV: NBC Sports Network, Root Sports Pittsburgh
It's been about as great of a month of December as it could possibly be for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they've won all seven games they've played so far. It's lifted them into a tie for first place for the Metro lead with the Rangers with two games in hand, and it's given them a bit of a buffer in case injuries strike, as they did last game with Kris Letang. The only downside to the month so far is that Philadelphia (10 games), Columbus (7 games) and Washington (5 games) have also strung together long winning streaks as the Metropolitan Division has established itself as the toughest division in hockey by far. It's been so strong, that the 5th place Capitals with 39 points would currently be second in both the Atlantic and Central Divisions and first in the Pacific.
The Pens will take on one of those Pacific Division teams tonight, but unlike in years past the Kings won't be one of the Pacific leaders. Midway through December, LA is only in 5th place, and they're barely hanging on to the last wild card spot out West. They've had some bad luck with the injury bug targeting key contributors too. Marian Gaborik realized the fears of many when he sustained a foot injury in the World Cup while participating for Team Europe. It caused Gaborik to miss the first 21 games of the Kings' season, though he has since returned and contributed a goal and three assists in eight games played.
But while the Gaborik injury has hurt, it was Jonathan Quick's groin injury in the first period of LA's first game that has affected the team's chances the most. A Vezina finalist last season, Quick's absence has meant that the team has had to rely on Peter Budaj and Jeff Zatkoff in net, both of whom have also battled injuries so far this year. Budaj has gotten the majority of the starts after Zatkoff, who opened the year as Quick's backup, also suffered from a groin injury early in the year. While Budaj has posted a respectable 2.21 GAA, it also comes with a well below average 0.907 SV% through 25 appearances on the season. And it's little surprise that Zatkoff hasn't been better, as his 0.890 SV% and 2.81 GAA likely ensures that Budaj will continue to see the majority of starts moving forward.
It hasn't been all bad news for the Kings so far though. Jeff Carter finished last season second on LA with 62 points (24g, 38a) in 77 games, and he's been even better so far in 2016-17. Carter has an active streak of 9 seasons with at least 20 goals, including 26 in the strike-shortened 2013 season and a career-high 46 in 2008-09, and he's well on his way to making that 10 straight after scoring 14 goals in 29 games this year. That's easily enough to lead the Kings, and his 14 goals are actually double that of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, who are tied for second on Los Angeles with 7 apiece. With 24 points in 29 games as well, Carter is on pace for 40 goals and 68 points, which would be the second best season of his career for both.
- Kris Letang will miss a "couple of weeks" with a lower body injury sustained against the Bruins Wednesday night. With Letang's injury, the team has recalled Derrick Pouliot from Wilkes Barre-Scranton.
- The team's current 7 game winning streak isn't only a big deal for their chances this year. With a win Wednesday, the Penguins are the only team in NHL history to have a 7 game winning streak in 10 consecutive seasons.