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Pens/Wings Recap: Kessel and Brassard lead Penguins to fourth win in a row

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Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard score two goals each as Penguins finally solve Jimmy Howard in 5-2 victory over the Red Wings. Victory pushes their winning streak to four straight as they head out on the road beginning Saturday night.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

Prior to the game, the Penguins made some pretty big news with the announcement that forward Jake Guentzel signed a five-year, $30 million contract extension set to take effect next season. Guentzel comes into tonight’s contest with 33 points in 36 games, good for fourth on the team.

This is Guentzel’s second full season with the Penguins after breaking into the league during the 2016-17 campaign. Guentzel is also a proven playoff performer, leading the entire league in goals during the 2017 playoffs and scoring an additional 10 in 2018. He was slated to become a restricted free agent this offseason.

Also for tonight’s game, the Penguins hosted kidney transplant recipient Kelly Sowatsky at PPG Paints Arena. If you recall, Kelly’s story spread far and wide last season when she was spotted with a sign at a Penguins game detailing her need for a kidney.

It was announced earlier in the season that Kelly received a kidney from fellow Penguins fan Jeff Lynd and underwent a successful transplant procedure. Both Kelly and Jeff attended the morning skate and got to meet some of the players on top of being special guests at the game.

Penguins lineup:

Matt Murray gets the nod in net for the third time in four games and coming off a shutout performance against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak remains out with a concussion as Juuso Riikola fills his spot on the second pairing alongside Olli Maatta.

Red Wings lineup:

First Period

Less than two minutes into the game, Juuso Riikola is sent to the penalty box for a hook but the Penguins kill off the penalty with no damage done on the scoreboard.

As the first period rolled along, each side created chances in the offensive zone but Murray and Red Wings starter Jimmy Howard were up to the task early on keeping the game scoreless through the opening 10 minutes of play.

Shortly past the midway point of the first period, the Red Wings broke the ice with the opening goal of the game. From a tight angle, Dylan Larkin picked a corner over the shoulder of Matt Murray to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 11:49 of the first period.

The goal helped Larkin extend his league high point streak to 12 games.

Down a goal, the Penguins began to push back in search of an equalizer but were shooting into a brick wall. Red Wings starter Jimmy Howard, who plays inexplicably well against the Penguins, kept his side in front as the horn sounded to end the first period with the Red wings in front 1-0 after 20 minutes.

Second Period

Out of the intermission break, the Penguins were able to create a few scoring chances early in the second period but Howard was up to the task once again. Evgeni Malkin in particular had a pair of chances in the slot area but Howard was able to keep the puck out and the Penguins remained behind by a goal.

Just past the six minute mark of the second, the Penguins went to the power play for the first time when Filip Hronek was sent to the penalty box for holding the stick of Patric Hornqvist.

An ugly start to the man advantage saw the Red Wings easily kill the opening minute of the penalty but that changed quickly thanks to Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. Looking to enter the offensive zone, Crosby hit Kessel in stride. Kessel then skated around a falling Red Wings defender and slipped the puck between the legs of Howard to tie the game at 1-1 on the power play.

Just over a minute later the Penguins took their first lead of the evening off a redirection from Derick Brassard in front of goal. Kessel registered his second point of the period as his pass deflected off the skate of Brassard past Howard for a 2-1 Penguins advantage on the scoreboard.

Moments after the Brassard goal, the Penguins came with inches of taking a two goal lead after Bryan Rust deflected a point shot off the pad of Howard and wide.

As the period rolled along the Penguins kept the pressure on and forced Howard into a few more saves to keep his side in the game. Howard’s best save came off a one time effort from Sidney Crosby in the slot that he was able to fight off with his right pad.

Olli Maatta was setup with a golden chance in the slot by Sidney Crosby but he pushed his shot just wide as the Penguins continued to apply pressure to the Red Wings defense. All of that pressure eventually paid off when Tanner Pearson was hauled down by Trevor Daley to send the Penguins back to the power play.

Back on the power play, Phil Kessel made it 2-for-2 on the man advantage with a wicked wrist shot from the slot that Howard had no chance on to push the Penguins lead to 3-1 with a minute to play in the second period.

In the dying moments, the Red Wings created a 3-on-2 rush the other way and Frans Nielsen had a golden opportunity to cut the deficit in half but his shot rang off the goal post then the head of Marcus Pettersson and wide to keep the Penguins two goal lead intact heading into the second intermission.

Third Period

Opening minutes of the third period featured chances at both ends but both goalies were up to the task. Matt Murray came up with a big save through traffic only the be answered by Howard on the other end with a nifty glove save on Tanner Pearson to keep the score at 3-1 in favor of the Penguins.

A reckless turnover by Malkin just inside the offensive zone sent Andreas Athanasiou the other way all alone and he beat Matt Murray to pull the Red Wings back within a goal with 15 minutes still remaining on the clock.

Already with two goals on the night, Phil Kessel had a wide open chance at the hat trick just seconds after the Athanasiou goal but Howard was able to get across and make a desperation save to keep the score at 3-2 and deny Kessel his second hat trick of the season.

Any momentum gained from the goal and the big time save from Howard was quickly erased as the Penguins regained their two goal lead. Off a face-off the Red Wings zone, Patric Hornqvist got his stick on a shot from Jack Johnson(!) and it trickled between the legs of Howard for a 4-2 Penguins lead.

At the midway point of the third period the Penguins went back to the power play for the third time on the evening as Thomas Vanek was called for tripping Matt Cullen deep in the Penguins zone.

Plenty of pressure for the Penguins with the man advantage but Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings penalty kill was up to the task this time and kept the Penguins at bay long enough to kill the Vanek penalty with no damage done.

With over three minutes still remaining and trailing by a pair, the Red Wings pulled Jimmy Howard for the extra attacker in hopes of making a late comeback. Phil Kessel was on the ice looking for a hat trick and came within inches of a third goal but his shot from deep inside the Penguins zone clanked off the pipe and resulted in an icing call.

Though Kessel had to settle for two goals on the night, Derick Brassard recorded his first multi-goal game as a Penguin by scoring into the empty net to put the game on ice and set the final at 5-2 in favor of the Penguins, who have now won four straight games for the first time since October.

Postgame Thoughts

  • Just when it seemed like Jake Guentzel extension was going to have and wait until the offseason Jim Rutherford shocks us all with a late Christmas present. Nice to have that contract done and dusted to avoid any potential Nylander-esque drama heading into next season.
  • Good on the Penguins for getting Kelly and Jeff to PPG Paints Arena for a game together after all they have been through. We covered her story on the site so it’s nice to see a happy ending come out of such a scary situation.
  • Some nights you live by the post other nights you die by the post and the bounces fell the way of the Penguins tonight.
  • It wasn’t always pretty but the Penguins power play had a solid 2-for-3 showing including the game winning goal.
  • You could even argue the Penguins best power play effort (the third chance) against the Red Wings did not result in a goal.
  • It was short lived but Juuso Riikola running to point on the top power play unit and unleashing bombs from the blue line was a fun experiment.
  • Matt Murray improves to 4-0-0 since his return from injury, stopping 135 of 141 shots in that span.
  • Nice to see the Penguins flip the script and dominate a second period for once.
  • This marks the second time the Penguins have won four games in a row this season but the first time they have done it since their Canadian road trip all the way back in October.
  • His statline will not look great but Jimmy Howard is the only reason the Penguins did not score seven or more tonight.
  • It was a bold decision on the Red Wings part to give Kessel as much time and space with the puck as they did tonight.
  • Penguins now head to the road for a three game stretch that sees them take on the Wild, Blues, and Rangers.