Well, the Penguins make some sweeping changes that weren’t forced by injury. They healthy scratch defenseman Juuso Riikola and forward Daniel Sprong and dress Chad Ruhwedel and Derek Grant, for both of the latter’s first NHL games of the season. Coach Mike Sullivan also has Derick Brassard up on first line wing. Quite dramatic shifts from how they lined up in the 6-5 OT win last time out vs. Edmonton.
Grant and Ruhwedel are making their season debuts tonight against Calgary. pic.twitter.com/z7bA4Xt8Yf— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 26, 2018
Early on the Flames get a power play with Letang going to the box for slashing. Their power play works the puck to James Neal and the Real Deal has a near empty net, but Matt Murray gives him a bum deal and launches over to somehow make a save.
Turns out being huge, Kris Letang finds Sidney Crosby who rockets down the right side of the ice, puts Sam Bennett on his hip and then lifts a backhander by Mike smith to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh early on.
Crosby is back at it scoring ridiculous goals. pic.twitter.com/eoKd5Cv3A2— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) October 26, 2018
Pittsburgh gets their first power play, and the big guns are all out there for a long 1:12 shift that ends with Evgeni Malkin shooting from outside that Crosby and Patric Hornqvist both try to tip. One probably does, tough to tell which. Ironically, I seriously noticed that everyone else besides Hornqvist was playing the puck in the lead up to the goal. Would be fitting if his only touch of the puck was a slight tip to put it in the net. 2-0 all the same.
Hornqvist gets credit for the deflection tally. Malkin and Kessel on the assists. pic.twitter.com/dtfpcxjLaO— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 26, 2018
Last minute of the period, the defense backs way off Bryan Rust for some reason, Dominik Simon makes a nice but simple little pass to Rust who fires on net. Smith makes the stop but leaves a rebound that Rust has plenty of time to find and lift past him to make it 3-0 just like that.
Shots end up 14-10 Pens in the period.
First shift of the second period for the 2nd line, Malkin and Phil Kessel are flying and seem to put Calgary under their spell. CGY defense gets caught flat-footed another time and Phil finds his rebound and slides it five-hole under Smith to make it 4-0.
Kessel is Philin' good on the road this season: this goal gives him six points (2G-4A) in four road games. pic.twitter.com/gt9RRyqOhC— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 26, 2018
The Pens keep pouring it on with chances, Riley Sheahan gets a good look at a shot with a 2-on-1, then Brassard gets a quality scoring chance too but can’t score. Hornqvist can score though and make it 5-0 looking off the pass on a 2-on-1.
Sweet Phil gets a slashing penalty, Pittsburgh kills it and Letang makes a beauty of a pass to spring the fresh-out-the-box Kessel on a breakaway. He absolutely rifles a puck past Smith, off the post and in and ending Smith’s night after now it’s 6-zippy.
Here's Phil Kessel doing what he does best: scoring goals pic.twitter.com/P9rdOLg0cz— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 26, 2018
It’s 6-0 and Malkin is still skating hard to get back on defense. A little too enthusiastically as he interferes with a player, but you’ll take Big Gene playing that hard in a blowout ANY DAY of the week. Try as they may, the Flames can’t score with Murray making a couple of good saves.
With such a big lead you don’t get too many power plays but the Pens get another one...And with just a few seconds left who else but Jack Johnson scores a goal. In the Flames net! Great pass by Brassard and a tremendous shot by JJ too. 7-zippy.
As if it mattered, shots are 15-13 CGY for the 2nd period, but Murray is a brick wall and the Pens still put 4 goals in the net and necessitated a goal change in the period for the Flames.
Both teams just playing out the string here. Brassard leaves the bench fairly early in the period and the lines keep rolling.
Letang makes a ridiculous zone entry and twirls around, puck makes its way back to Crosby at the point and he sees Jake Guentzel with open space and fires it down to him. Guentzel just reaches out and tips it into the net with one hand on the stick. 8-0 now, because why not.
Finally Neal gets his goal, as he whiffs on a shot but the changeup flutters up and in half-speed past Murray with only a few to go. Bummer to lose the shutout on that but what can ya do. 8-1.
No one ends Matt Cullen’s goalie’s shutout like that so Cullen gets his first of the year after after Mark Giordano quits on a play, gets bodied off the puck by Simon who sets Cullen up. 9-1.
Huge game ends.
- With Riikola scratched and Justin Schultz hurt, who is the guy that jumps on the ice to replace Letang on the power play in the first change in the 1st period? Would you believe Olli Maatta? Well it was.
- One game is only one game, but man, the more you see of Chad Ruhwedel, the more you like him. Especially this season with and the non Dumoulin-Letang D not playing well at all. Ruhwedel is no stand out, but he gets around the ice well and just looks, in a word, competent at everything. He’s not dynamic or super but he’s just a sturdy, safe, reliable player. The Pens could use more like him. Last year Ruhwedel went as something of an after-thought into a playoff player. Could he do something similar this season? Again, it’s early, but I see no real reason why the RH shooting Ruhwedel shouldn’t be the 3rd pair right D for the forseeable future.
- To the last point, it’s not just that everyone looks good in a blowout win. In the 1st period when the score was 0-0 or 1-0 and competitive for most the period, Ruhwedel played almost 6 minutes, blocked a shot, had a takeaway and a hit.
- If Murray doesn’t make that save on Neal, how differently does this game unfold? We’ll never know but the answer is obviously it’s a much different story. Huge play by him. And isn’t it just SO hockey that as soon as a goalie makes a huge, game-changing robbery of a save, of course his team will score in the next 2-3 minutes. Somehow it just ALWAYS works out like that no matter what the situation is.
- It’s easy to overlook the goalie in a lopsided game, but Murray was awesome in the 2nd period as well. The Pens were piling it on, but Calgary was unable to answer due to 15 saves in the period by MM and several of them were good ones there too. About any goalie could have won this game for Pittsburgh, but Murray definitely put up some style points and made key stops to make it such a laugher.
- Brassard missed practice yesterday and just upped his season point total from 2 to 5 on the night in this one. Great game for him and one he probably needed too, gotta get that guy on track. Hopefully he’s not hurt after leaving the game.
- This western swing has been good to Hornqvist too, taking his goals on the season from 0 to 4 in the last two games. That will settle those grumbles on “what’s wrong with 72” down for a little bit, as Hornqvist is now suddenly on a 41-game goal pace for the season now in just the bat of an eye.
- Ironically, a blowout would have been great from Sprong to get some more shifts on and extra chances to do something, but it wasn’t to be.
- Letang and Brian Dumoulin were each a +5 on the night, 2 helpers for Letang who just is playing out of his mind right now to start the season, a lot more like 2016 Letang than the 2017-18 version.
Well if only they could be just like this, right? The Pens were firing on all cylinders and backed by some great goaltending when they needed it. For a team that doesn’t always show up for every game in October, they’re now up to a very strong 5-1-2 on the season and have to be taking a lot of confidence into Vancouver on Saturday night for the final game of the trip.