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Pens/Panthers Recap: Pens parlay 3 early goals into win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins jump out early, taking a 3-0 lead in the first 7:34 of the game and then pretty much coast the rest of the way to a relatively comfortable 5-1 win on the road against the Florida Panthers.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

Bit of a surprise, the Penguins use their morning skate lines which means Eric Fehr (just 3 goals, 2 assists in 26 games this season) is a healthy scratch for the first time this season and Tom Kuhnhackl (himself usually the odd man out for healthy scratches) slots in at Fehr's 4th line right wing spot.

1st period

The Pens waste little time getting on the board, Sidney Crosby notices that Roberto Luongo is dealing with a face full of Patric Hornqvist and 2 Panthers defensemen so Sid quickly snipes a shot that eludes the goalie. 1-0.

Pittsburgh piles on, Crosby and Conor Sheary get a 2-on-0 (during a 4v4 no less) and Sheary's shot ends up going wide...Yet somehow the puck bounces off the end-boards and Luongo accidentally kicks it into his own net. 2-0.

This is getting ugly (in a good way). The Pens above-mentioned new look 4th line swarms the net and gets a goal. Florida tries to challenge for Kuhnhackl interfering, but he really didn't. Goal stands 3-0 with TK34 getting credit for the redirect and his 2nd goal of the season.

Shots just 7-7 after one, not dominant at all in terms of pure shooting but their compete level was WAY higher than Florida and a very dominant 1st in terms of creating and finishing scoring chances.

2nd period

Pittsburgh gets in a little penalty trouble including a too many men call that Mike Sullivan didn't like and old friend Jaromir Jagr makes them pay on a 4v3. Career goal 755 for the ageless one to make it a 3-1 game. Great drive to the net and pass by Aleksander Barkov here and Ian Cole just kind of drifts backwards out of the play, but what can you do but tip your cap, I guess.

That's the only goal of the stanza and shots are up to 18-11 overall for Pittsburgh but it really didn't feel like any of the Pens 11 shots this period were all that dangerous, nor did many come from the sustained pressure or prime areas that the 1st period goals did.

3rd period

The Panthers get a great chance early to make it 3-2 with a short-handed 2-on-1 and get a great shot by Matt Murray is here with the big glove stop. He didn't face a ton of shots, but in the big picture when you think "why does Matt Murray have such good season stats?" - the answer is he makes big saves like these in high-danger areas to suppress the score.

The Pens 4th line tacks another one on the board, Scott Wilson got knocked down but makes a nice pass on his knees out to Matt Cullen who smacks the puck on net. It really wasn't a great shot, it was back at Luongo, but Lou had to stretch his leg out to try and cover the far post and the puck slides in 5-hole. 4-1.

Murray takes a shot for himself towards the empty net, but speedy Carl Hagelin hunts it down and finishes the deal as Keith Yandle appears to make some sort of strange mating dance with him in the process. 5-1 Pens to finish the game out.

Some Thoughts

  • 2 points for Crosby before the first TV stoppage. That's a pretty fair sign it's going to be a good night for the old black 'n gold.
  • Hockey's a game of bounces; sometimes they're cruel, sometimes they're beautiful. Sheary for his goal sure did get lucky but you've gotta take the good fortune when you're fortunate enough to get it. Now with 15 points in 20 games this season, Sheary certainly is living right these days.
  • After not taking a penalty for the last 6 games in a row, Gene Gene the Penalty Taking Machine goes to the box just 3:27 into the game for hooking Aaron Ekblad. Welp. Maybe he'll go for another 6 games without? We can hope, right?
  • Speaking of discipline, though Malkin is an easy target for natural reasons, the whole team could buckle down. Per Bob Grove on twitter, this is the 6th bench minor for too many men called on Pittsburgh in the last 24 games, which using my math skillz is a nice round 1 terrible line-change every 4 games. That's unacceptable at championship level NHL hockey, or any level really and needs to be addressed and improved.
  • Scratching Fehr worked well. Both Wilson and Kuhnhackl have more speed and showed a lot of hunger tonight after each of them had been healthy scratches in recent games. Nice tactic to give the youth a chance and let them work not to want to get scratched next game. Now let's see how long they can keep it up.
  • In fact, with his two assists (a shot Kuhn deflected, a great pass from his knees) you could argue Wilson was as impactful with the puck as anyone on the team. Even Crosby "only" had 2 direct plays that resulted in goals (and none in the last 55 minutes in the game, at that).
  • Don't look now but 2 more assists on the night for Justin Schultz. Schultz is up to 3 goals, 5 assists in the past 5 games (Nov 30- present). If this was NBA Jam, he'd be offically past "he's heating up" and to "he's on fire!"
  • Jagr is 6 points away from Mark Messier and 2nd place all-time in the NHL's scoring history. That's pretty wild to wrap my brain around.
  • The Pens surrendered 29 shots, but how about a playoff-esque 17 blocked shots? Great effort there to get in shooting lanes from a Florida team seemingly content to take a lot of perimeter shots. Olli Maatta led the team with 3 blocks. It also helped that Florida missed the net 10 times.
  • Murray didn't have to do a lot, but still ends the night 28/29 and builds upon a solid relief effort last game. Can't imagine there's any reason for him not to play next time out with an effort like this.
  • Two really nice efforts for Kris Letang to hold the puck inside the blueline on the power play in the 3rd period. It's the subtle things that make a great defenseman so great. Didn't result in a goal, but his efforts were impressive nonetheless.

A nice start to the 2 game FLA trip, but the boys don't get too much fun in the sun as the game in Tampa will be Saturday night and a quick return back to Pittsburgh for a Monday night game against Arizona.