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Pens/Tampa Recap: Letang, Pittsburgh explode past feisty Lightning

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The Pens fight through the best team in the NHL and win 4-2

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Lineups

An eyebrow raiser with Derick Brassard a late scratch for a newly announced injury, so Teddy Blueger gets to finally make his NHL debut after being drafted in 2012!

First period

The Lightning come out very physical, J.T. Miller drops Kris Letang with a borderline late big hit and then the following shift Evgeni Malkin got rudely welcomed to the game with a clean shot from Dan Girardi.

But it’s the Penguins who strike first, Letang doesn’t miss a shift and makes a wonderful indirect pass using the wall up to Riley Sheahan. Sheahan moves it to Garrett Wilson who makes a power move and sweeping wrap-around attempt that doesn’t work but the puck swings out to Sheahan who is able to bury it for a 1-0 lead.

It’s quickly 2-0 after a 2-on-1 for Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust. Kessel passes to Rust who puts his shoulder down and drives to the net, he doesn’t score but Kessel follows the play and snaps it in from a tight angle.

Pittsburgh keeps pouring it on, just 16 seconds after Brayden Point is hassled by Jake Guentzel and turns the puck over to Dominik Simon. Simon quickly and smartly finds Sidney Crosby who has an easy one to put past Andrei Vasilievskiy and it’s 3-0 before anyone knows what has happened.

The Pens even get a power play while up 3-0 and Cedric Paquette runs Letang from behind and hard into the boards. Luckily Letang seems OK and it leads to 1:34 of a 5-on-3 advantage. Tampa kills it off though.

Shots end up 16-5 Tampa after 20 minutes, so Matt Murray was strong to hold up the fort.

Second period

At one sequence in the second Yanni Gourde got overly friendly in front of Murray and Jack Johnson had to pop him for it (atta boy JJ!). Soon after Alex Killorn went sliding into Murray and threw a little cross-check at him for good measure, drawing a pounding from Brian Dumoulin and sending both to the box for coincidental minors.

On the 4-on-4, Phil Kessel holds the puck for what feels like forever, finally the Pens get a change and Malkin finds Kessel who bumps the puck over for Letang to rifle far-side on Vasilevskiy for a 4-0 Pittsburgh lead.

Pretty good rest of the period as the Pens play a lot better than in the first. Shots in the second are 10-6 Pittsburgh, but 22-15 TB overall in the game.

Third period

Malkin and Steven Stamkos get tangled up a bit and neither back down so they...drop the gloves (or one glove in Geno’s case). Don’t love to see the $9.5 million dollar right hand of Malkin get thrown toward the helmet of Stamkos, but anything to try and get back on track.

The tough stuff continues with poor Teddy Blueger getting cross-checked down to the ice and then getting in a little scrum with the result being the Pens’ third power play of the night. Doesn’t result in much though.

Game moves along and Miller ruins the shutout bid with a quick shot on a cross-ice pass to get on by Murray with just 4:10 left in the contest to make it 4-1.

With a bit over two minutes left Matt Cullen takes a hooking penalty and Stamkos makes Pittsburgh pay by scoring on the power play. 4-2 now with 2:04 left.

But Tampa runs out of time and that’s as close as they’ll get. A big win for the Pens.

Some Thoughts

  • Letang was everywhere in the first period, absorbed two big hits, made a beauty of a zone exit that started the first goal. But his play on the sequence of the Kessel goal in the neutral zone to hustle over and win a puck that Evgeni Malkin quickly corralled and got into the OZ might have been the finest play Letang made. He doesn’t do much subtlety and didn’t earn an assist on it but it was a nice move.
  • On twitter I keep joking that Wilson (now goal-less in 55 career NHL games) is coming close to scoring one. And he is! But he’s also helping move the puck along and bringing some energy, probably not a guy you want to see in the lineup come playoff time, but a good honest hardworking player.
  • Tampa was crazy physical and playing really hard. Might have been the most intense game of the season with several post-whistle scrums and just all around nastiness. You can see why they’re in first place, they compete all over the ice and are unapologetic about being very aggressive. A Pens team that plays so poorly against last place teams could probably stand to take a lesson from that..
  • Interesting night for Malkin, took a high-stick to the mouth on his first faceoff that opened some blood (went uncalled), got a couple assists that were nice but not really splashy, got in a fight. Odd year for him and still not quite right, but he was engaged in this game and unlike some games didn’t make any glaring or costly misplays with the puck so that’s encouraging. Also really liked a pass G post-fight to Bryan Rust that looked promising until the puck rolled off his stick.
  • Loved the night from Kessel and Letang with the puck on their sticks though. They were super-effective, and for a stretch their every decision was seemingly resulting in the puck ending up in the net.
  • Welcome to the National, Teddy Blueger. Got a +1 for being on the ice on his very first shift! Pretty quiet after that until Paquette cross-checked him and Bluger got tangled up with Adam Erne.
  • Games Without Allowing A Short Handed Goal Against” counter: (confidently moved from 0 to) 1!
  • Pittsburgh is now 1-8-1 against the last place teams in the league + Philly, who are basically a last place team. That makes them 26-9-5 against all the teams who aren’t trash in the league. The Pens are just a tough team to figure out, capable of winning big against anyone, but also very prone to no-showing against a poor team.

And, oh no...last place team on Friday night coming to town via the Ottawa Senators. Maybe time to buck a trend and stick it to a bad team? We can only hope.