Lines rolling for Pittsburgh against the Ducks:
Welcome back, Tanger!— PensBurgh (@Pensburgh) December 17, 2018
On the flip side, here were the combinations for Anaheim. Welcome back, Daniel Sprong and Carter Rowney:
A few roster updates: According to Mike Sullivan, Patric Hornqvist and Dominik Simon are both still on injured reserve with undisclosed ailments but are nearing their returns and may re-join the team very soon.
The IR duo took morning skate together in non-contact jerseys alongside Kris Letang, who was also nursing a minor lower-body (suspected knee) injury of his own. However, Tanger made his triumphant return and Juuso Riikola returned to being a healthy scratch after rumors earlier today that it might be Jack Johnson sitting in the press box.
The Penguins’ first offensive chance came almost eight minutes into the opening frame, as Zach Aston-Reese sprung on a breakaway only to get stoned by the brilliant, Pittsburgh-native John Gibson. But a few minutes later, after a tough effort to get to Gibson’s doorstep, Garrett Wilson battled up front to draw a slashing call on the Ducks. Evgeni Malkin went on to break his six-game, goal-less cold streak on the man-advantage with a beautiful wrist shot from the left faceoff circle after a keep in the zone by Letang.
Whatcha gonna do when Malkamania runs wild on you, brother?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 18, 2018
: Letang, Kessel pic.twitter.com/eZHHcfJtvo
Bryan Rust stayed scorching hot and followed suit with a goal of his own right up close and personal with Gibson to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead with four minutes remaining in the first.
Oh, and he also did this on the subsequent defensive sequence:
Give him the damn Selke!
Pittsburgh closed out the first with a two-goal lead where it counts, but a 10-9 deficit in shots, a 10-7 deficit in faceoffs won, and a 5-5 tie in blocks.
The Penguins opened the second period with a hooking call on Aston-Reese just 13 seconds in, and the Ducks tilted the ice from there. Adam Henrique converted on the power play with a wrister over DeSmith’s right shoulder.
Sprong got the primary assist. There wasn’t much else the Pens’ netminder could’ve done on the play.
A few minutes later, after a poor defensive effort by both Jack Johnson (who chased a hit and then stood up) and Olli Maatta (whose legs the puck went right through), Kiefer Sherwood skated right down broadway and snapped it in.
Rowney was awarded the secondary assist. The Penguins’ 2-0 lead was wiped away with 14 minutes remaining in the middle frame.
You might need to shield your eyes on this one:
It got even more sour from there. The Penguins, as a team, went almost 18 minutes without a shot on goal between the first and second period. Riley Sheahan managed to make a nice little play down low to draw a holding call on Rowney, but the power play unit put only one pitiful shot on goal during the man-advantage. Anaheim turned its forecheck into maximize overdrive and forced the Penguins into a plethora of turnovers in their own zone.
The Ducks would score their third-straight goal directly off the faceoff with just over a minute remaining. Ondrej Kase got the credit.
The Penguins were out-shot 26-9 since taking a 2-0 lead. It was an utterly forgettable frame.
Pittsburgh came out a little stronger this period, stringing together several positive offensive sequences and shots on goal. The tries were a little on the weak side, but it was nice to see the Penguins’ scorers pepper Gibson to try and squeak one through.
It didn’t work. Gibson was unstoppable. Ryan Getzlaf sealed the Ducks’ win with an empty-netter, and the Penguins lost 4-2.
- Coming off what could’ve been a scary long-term knee injury vs. the Bruins, Letang had a hell of a return game. He won a ton of puck battles that he frankly didn’t have a chance on before he entered himself into those scrums. His closing speed and lateral mobility didn’t look to be hindered at all, which is great news considering how much pain he looked to be in leaving the ice last Friday.
- Rust has been unstoppable lately, and tonight’s game was no different. His first 30 contests were extremely frustrating. He couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, let alone hit twine. Now it seems like every puck he receives on his paddle, it’s quickly thrown into the back of the cage. It’s crazy how quickly puck luck comes and goes in this game. Rust has five goals in his last four games, which is good for the best stretch of production in his entire NHL career. He had five goals in five games played during the 2016-17 season.
- Casey DeSmith seems poised and controlled between the pipes, and coming at a time where Sullivan is trying to ease Matt Murray back into the starting role, it’s nice to have a backup you can truly trust to perform while the franchise guy gets back up to speed.
- While we’re talking about the positives, Malkin, after struggling recently, put together a really terrific game. He ripped a goal and looked strong on his skates. That’s good news for him and the team as a whole moving forward.
- The curse of the horrible second period continues its reign of terror on the Penguins. The Ducks stormed back from a two-goal deficit to first tie things up and then take the lead in the middle frame, running all over Pittsburgh the entire 20-minute clip. The Pens went without a shot on goal by any player for 12:21 and without a shot on goal by any forward for 17:23. Woof.
- Piggybacking off of that, this marked the third-straight game the Penguins blew a 2-0 lead. They won the prior two. They couldn’t make it three. That’s obviously not sustainable and can rupture any progress made.
- For some reason, Jake Guentzel was benched after two shifts (one at 5v5, one on the power play) in the second period. Not sure if he was hurt or if Sullivan was angry about his play on one of the Ducks’ goals, but it was nine straight minutes of one of the best Penguins’ playmakers/scorers not on the ice while Anaheim scored three unanswered. He returned and was deployed normally in the third, but it was just an odd decision by the head coach.