NHL Hockey

Sprong eyes return to Steel City as Ducks visit Penguins

Daniel Sprong is expected to get regular shifts Monday night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, with a chance to perhaps be a difference-maker in an NHL game.

Sprong, however, will be doing that as a visiting player with the Anaheim Ducks, not for the team (the Pittsburgh Penguins) that drafted him in the second round in 2015.

After failing to find his footing in Pittsburgh -- and apparently never gaining the trust of two different head coaches there -- Sprong has fit in well so far in Anaheim. The Ducks acquired Sprong on Dec. 3 in a trade that sent defenseman Marcus Pettersson to Pittsburgh.

Sprong, 21, had four goals and five assists in 42 games with the Penguins, but he never cracked the lineup as a regular. He often played among the bottom-six forwards, and spent much more time back in junior hockey or in the American Hockey League, where he was prolific.

The Penguins (15-11-6) have expressed satisfaction with the performance of Pettersson, who is playing regularly, and Sprong has so far made it a productive move for Anaheim (18-11-5).

Sprong has three goals in five games with Anaheim -- a seeing-eye tally in his first game with the Ducks while displaying a shooting skill reminiscent of Pittsburgh star center Sidney Crosby. Sprong recorded both goals Saturday in a 2-1 win at Columbus, one to tie it and one in overtime.

"I think (the success is based on) the coaching staff and management giving me an opportunity to play the role I think I can play," Sprong told Fox Sports West in pretty obvious contrast to what he experienced with the Penguins.

"Playing with (Adam Henrique) and (Nick Ritchie), those two guys have really been helping me out. We're getting comfortable, and we're creating good chances. I'm getting the looks and putting pucks in the net."

The Ducks have won four straight and 10 of their past 12 games. They have won five straight road games.

"We've been able to grind out points when it looked grim," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "We've found ways to score timely goals."

Pittsburgh is in the midst of a busy stretch -- 11 games in 19 days leading into the NHL's Christmas break. The club is looking to sweep a three-game homestand with a win against Anaheim before playing Wednesday at defending Stanley Cup champion and rival Washington.

The Penguins have not said who will start in goal against the Ducks.

Matt Murray, who helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, made 38 saves Saturday in a 4-3 overtime win against Los Angeles. It was his first game in nearly a month after recovering from a lower-body injury.

Casey DeSmith, in filling in for Murray and before that serving as his backup, has put up better numbers this season.

"I thought Matt was really good," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said of Murray's game against the Kings. "For his first game back, after as long as he'd been out, I thought he was really sharp. I thought he got better as the game went on."

Updated December 16, 2018

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