Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Vancouver Canucks Pick & Prediction JANUARY 11th 2024

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The Vancouver Canucks, in the midst of their longest road trip this season, go to Pittsburgh on Thursday to face the Penguins in what will be their third game in four nights. The busy schedule certainly doesn’t seem to daunt the Canucks. They are 3-1 on the seven-game jaunt and are coming off wins on back-to-back nights against the Rangers and Islanders, following a win Saturday over New Jersey in the same large metropolitan area. “I knew these guys were ready to play,” Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet said after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Islanders. “To win three games in New Jersey and New York is tough to do.” So is being the top team in the NHL, and the Canucks appear to be making a beeline for that, with only Winnipeg ahead of them in the overall standings entering Wednesday’s action. Vancouver is 4-1 in January, 12-3-2 since the start of December. The Canucks took a 4-1 lead into the third against the Islanders, gave up a goal but sewed things up on Dakota Joshua’s empty-netter. “It’s crazy how a year can change,” said Quinn Hughes, one of three Vancouver defensemen who scored Tuesday. “Last year, we had a really hard time keeping leads in the third, and this year we kind of look like a mature group.” Vancouver’s so-called Lotto Line, the trio of Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson, combined for 18 points in three games in the greater New York area after being reunited for the New Jersey game. “We just want to keep climbing up the mountain,” Hughes said. “We’re happy with how this road trip has gone, but we’ve got to finish up strong.” Pittsburgh isn’t within sight of the top spot in the league. Or the Eastern Conference. Or even the Metropolitan Division. But the Penguins also have been surging and seem to be making a push to get into a playoff spot. Since they were embarrassed 7-0 on Dec. 16 at Toronto, the Penguins are 7-2-1. They are coming off a 4-1 win Monday on the road against the cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers. Of note, while Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby has tortured the Flyers for years, it was the team’s other superstar center, Evgeni Malkin, who had a goal and an assist Monday. That gave Malkin four goals and eight points in seven games since the NHL’s holiday break. Before that, he had dipped some by his standards and after a hot start, getting three goals, eight assists in 22 games leading up to the break. “He’s been committed to playing hard defensively, and when you do that, with the way the league is trending, it opens up the game,” Pittsburgh’s third long-time core player, defenseman Kris Letang, said of Malkin. Even with the season nearly at the midpoint, the Penguins still are tweaking personnel combinations after a series of offseason roster moves. Against Philadelphia, Malkin and right winger Bryan Rust got a new left winger, Drew O’Connor, with struggling winger Reilly Smith moving down to the third line. “(Malkin) now has two guys on his flanks that are fast and play a north-and-south game, and both of them excel at the puck pursuit game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. –Field Level Media

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