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Penguins/Hurricanes Recap: Pittsburgh passes big test, win 3-1

In a very important division game, the Penguins show up in a strong way and take a convincing 3-1 win over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins


Bryan Rust is back in the lineup for the first time since getting hurt during a game on 12/27, and he replaces Ryan Reaves who was made a healthy scratch for the first time in 2017-18. Otherwise the Penguins lineup remains the same, including starting Casey DeSmith for his 3rd straight game after two strong games in California.

And for the Carolina Hurricanes:

The loss of their leading scorer Sebastian Aho last week could be a huge one, since it looked like he suffered a bad knee injury after getting hit and receiving a concussion. Hopefully he’s able to return quicker than as bad as that double injury looked.

1st period

Game starts fairly slow, as if both teams are just feeling each other out and not wanting to make a bad mistake. Carolina always seems like a methodical and plodding team.

The Pens top ranked power play gets a chance mid-way through the first period, they don’t get much going with the first group. The second PP comes out but they jump the faceoff twice which is a penalty now. Luckily the penalties all cycle through without any goals against.

The teams keep going, Evgeni Malkin is probably the best player on the ice or most noticeable with the puck at least in the early going but Cam Ward makes a really nice glove save on one of his best chances.

Then Ward and Patric Hornqvist start hackin’ and a-whackin’ at each other with sticks so each get a minor penalty. They have a history from last year where Ward punched Hornqvist in the face.

Carolina tilts the ice on the 4v4 a little, but Casey DeSmith is solid with a few big saves of his own.

Shots in the period: Pens 16, Hurricanes 11.

2nd period

Hornqvist’s conquest of taking up real estate in opponents minds’ continues, he jousts with Justin Faulk a little and Faulk drops his gloves...Somehow both get penalties. In the 4v4 Malkin + Phil Kessel + Justin Schultz + Jamie Oleksiak put on a clinic in the offensive zone with puck possession, protection and scoring chances, the best coming with Malkin feeding Oleksiak right in front of the net but the big man just couldn’t beat Ward.

Carolina gets the first goal of the game, they whip a couple shots on net and while DeSmith stops them, the rebounds were flying around wildly. Derek Ryan collects the puck, and despite Jake Guentzel defending him pretty well, Ryan frees his stick enough to collect a rebound and slam the puck home. 1-0 CAR.

Their lead lasts a grand total of just 49 seconds. Pittsburgh’s first line is on the ice and Sidney Crosby pops the puck up for Dominik Simon on the rush. Simon doesn’t look like he has much so he fires a wrist shot and it ends up beating the glove hand of Ward. 1-1.

The Pens strike again just 1:16 later, Rust makes a great centering pass right in front of the net for J-S Dea to skate into and the little-used 4th line center roofs the puck on a nice shot for his first career NHL goal and to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

Kris Letang goes to the penalty box for hooking but the Pens PK takes care of business.

Shots end up 13-10 CAR in the period, and are 26-24 after 2 for the Pens. 2-1 Pens in the most important category with 20 minutes remaining.

3rd period

Carolina playing with a lot of urgency early, both teams know this is a critically important game. They only get as close as hitting the post before later on Kessel finds Guentzel in front for a goal to push the lead to 3-1.

The rest of the way DeSmith would make it stand. Huge win for the Pens.

Some thoughts

  • Kessel got taken down in the first period and looked out of sorts for a while. Is there anyone ever in more perpetual discomfort at a hockey rink than Philip J. Kessel? Nice to see him shake it off and make the best pass of the game in the 3rd period for the insurance goal. Like you expected any less, eh?
  • Didn’t like the linesmen taking over the game with the frequent players on both teams getting kicked out of the faceoff circle, culminating in the Pens getting rung up for a penalty when 2 got kicked out in the same sequence, both for non-egregious reasons. Just know your role, drop the puck and let’s keep if movin’ refs.
  • Was very impressed with Simon’s mindset on his goal. Down to a 1v2 and not in a great position many a player would have pulled up and waited for a trailer (especially knowing that Crosby was right with you at the beginning of the rush). Simon though took a shot quicker than the defender could get stick-on-puck on him and it ended up being a great shot that Ward couldn’t get. Good stuff. Not sure how many times out of 10 he scores on a rush like that, but by simply keeping going on his route to the net and getting a clean shot away that demonstrates some high-IQ hockey.
  • I don’t think many “average” fans understand how much of a pain in the ass Hornqvist is, and how it’s never an easy night for the opposition when he’s out there. His ability to take a pounding and keep on relentlessly going is a really remarkable skill. Not sure how you quantify that anymore than just recognizing and appreciating a unique and valuable skillset.
  • Crosby earned an assist on the Simon goal and tied Jagr for 2nd all-time in franchise history for total points.
  • Crosby only had 1 shot on goal (a nice chance in the 3rd that almost scored if not for an arm save by Ward)....Doesn’t it seem like he plateaus a bit at the edge of the landmark goals? He’s at 399 career ones and it almost feels like he’s thinking about it too much. Hopefully he can get it out of the way quickly and move onto the next batch.
  • Nice night for the youngins’ with all three Pittsburgh goal scorers being 23 years old age. It is a young man’s game and the oft-overlooked and disrespected younger Penguin talent found a way to step up in a game with huge implications.
  • Gotta feel great for Dea. Undrafted. Now in his 4th pro season, without really much of a sniff of the NHL (only played 1 game prior to this year, and that was a Game 82 where the Pens were resting all their key forwards). Dea’s perseverance paid off and no matter what happens to his playing days from here on out, he will always have the memory of scoring a really nice goal, and one that ended up being the game winner, no less! Good for him, that’s one he’ll be telling his grandkids about one day.
  • DeSmith is red hot right now. He looks very solid, and sure in his positioning. Almost feel like the Pens didn’t ask him to do too, too much but at the end night he finished with 34 saves on 35 shots and Carolina actually had more scoring chances (30-28) and high danger scoring chances (17-10) than the Pens did.

By any model, a Pittsburgh regulation win versus a key playoff challenger in Carolina is a huge 2 points tonight. This was a big game, and the Pens played well despite being somewhat of a trap game of the first home game following a far-flung road trip. Pittsburgh passed the test tonight. Let’s see if they can build on it and finish strong in their last game before the All-Star break on Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild.