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NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Vegas Golden Knights Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins will aim to put the disappointment of a defeat in the Winter Classic behind them when they travel to T-Mobile Arena to face the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday.

Pittsburgh were beaten 2-1 in the NHL's showcase event on Monday, which was their fifth straight defeat and left them in fifth place of the Metropolitan Division and two points off a Wild Card place into the playoffs with a 19-12-6 record.

The Penguins have qualified for the playoffs in 16 seasons straight which is an NHL record and are -500 To Reach the Playoffs and make it 17 this season.

Vegas, meanwhile, have won their last two and sit top of the Pacific Division with a 26-12-2 record.

The Golden Knights are 11-9-0 at home and the Penguins 9-8-2 on the road this season.

Injury hoodoo hits Vegas again

After having their line-up decimated by injury last season and missing the playoffs for the first time in their four-year history, the Golden Knights hoped for better health through 2022/23.

Aside from a season-ending injury to goalie Robin Lehner, Vegas went relatively unscathed through the first quarter of the season which allowed them to build a healthy lead at the top of the Pacific Division.

However, the injury bug has hit again with defensemen Zach Whitecloud, Shea Theodore, and Alec Martinez, as well as forwards Jack Eichel, Paul Cotter, Brett Howden, and Jonathan Marchessault all currently on the treatment table.

Without all seven, the Golden Knights were able to beat the reigning Stanley Cup Champions Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Tuesday with several players stepping up in their hour of need.

Forward Michael Amadio has scored four goals in the past six games and is on a six-game point streak, while defenseman Daniil Miromanov - promoted from the Henderson Silver Knights - has also been excellent in registering six points (two goals, four assists) in 14 games.

Clearly, the Golden Knights are hoping to have their top players back as soon as possible, but in the meantime they are managing the situation far better than they were able to last season.

Penguins currently grounded

The Penguins' skid of five games (0-3-2) is all the more frustrating in that they have lost by just a single goal on three occasions and they will rely on Sidney Crosby (19 goals, 24 assists), Evgeni Malkin (12 goals, 22 assists) and Jake Guentzel (15 goals, 18 assists) to re-fire an offense which has scored just 11 times in the five defeats.

Overall this season, the Penguins have averaged a respectable 3.27 goals per-game (13th in the NHL) which almost matches the Golden Knights' 3.28 (11th).

The pair have a similar defensive record as well with Pittsburgh conceding 3.00 goals per-game (15th) and Vegas 2.80 (10th).

A major difference between the two is on the penalty kill where the Penguins rank second in the league at 84.3% and the Golden Knights 16th at 78.1%.

That could be an area for Pittsburgh's 22.1% (16th) powerplay to exploit, but despite their opposition's strong penalty-kill, Vegas will fancy their chances on the man advantage too, firing at 25% over the season (ninth).

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Previous meeting

Pittsburgh won the first meeting of the two teams this season, opening the month of December with a 4-3 win at PPG Paints Arena.

On that night the Penguins heavily outshot the Golden Knights 47-37 and forced rookie netminder Logan Thompson into a career-high 43 saves.

Vegas had a two-goal first period lead and also went 3-2 up in the third but blew it on both occasions.

Thompson a Calder candidate

When Lehner was ruled out for the entirety of the campaign before a puck was even dropped, there was much concern about placing Vegas' lofty expectations on the shoulders of 25-year-old Thompson who at the time had only played 19 NHL games.

With 26 more starts under his belt and with an 18-9-1 record, the 6'4" Canadian has more than proved his ability to be a bona fide number one in the league, with a .915 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average.

After stealing several games for the Golden Knights both in regulation time and in the shoot-out, Thompson is +1000 to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, with Carolina goalie Pyotr Kochetkov (+275) and Seattle Kraken forward Matty Beniers (+200) his main competition.

It's unclear who will be Thompson's opposite number on Friday after Penguins' number-one Tristan Jarry was forced to leave the Winter Classic during the first period due to a lower-body injury.

The 27-year-old is 15-5-4 with a .917 save percentage and 2.78 GAA this season and he was replaced by Casey DeSmith who is 4-7-2 with a .911 save percentage and 2.99 GAA.

Thompson will be backed up by Aidan Hill who has an 8-3-1 record, .899 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.

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