Unfortunately for the Penguins, Evgeni Malkin is still too sick to play and while it’s a positive that they get to use the same lineup as last game, well, it’s not a very strong lineup.
The last place Los Angeles Kings aren’t exactly a juggernaut themselves though.
LA opens the scoring on the rush, Adrian Kempe makes a nice pass over for (checks notes) someone named Austin Wagner who scores his first goal in 23 games this season slamming one home past Tristan Jarry.
The very next shift, the Pens get one past Jonathan Quick. Brandon Tanev does a move he’s done before, circling the net with the puck and losing the defense as he shows patience and drift wide. Tanev fires the puck in the net, but the Kings instantly challenge for goalie interference. Teddy Blueger is sort of in the blue paint of the crease, but he’s also checked a bit by the defender but...the ref doesn’t like what Blueger did and it’s enough to erase the goal. Score remains 1-0 in a huge turning point.
Kind of a gray zone play, Blueger wasn’t egregious with his actions but probably wasn’t totally innocent either. Still, for a play ruled goal on the ice, a bit surprising they saw enough there to reverse whatever the call was.
The Kings take advantage of the break and extend their lead to 2-0. Sean Walker down low makes a nice pass out that Bryan Rust can’t break up. And Kris Letang fails to find it right in front, at least not before Tyler Toffoli does and lifts a beauty of a backhand flip shot to the top of the net. 2-0.
Shots are 15-10 Kings in the first period. They looked like the better team by a pretty big margin and the Pens got their goal taken off the board. Uphill battle ensues as a result.
A nice adjustment by Mike Sullivan pays off, he moves Jake Guentzel (who was centering the first line in Malkin’s absence) over to his typical left wing spot and promotes Jared McCann to center there with Rust. It doesn’t take long for Guentzel to setup Rust for a goal with a nice center lane drive by McCann.
After Walker made that great play for LA on their second goal, he gives it back with a weak defensive effort here getting stepped around by Rust who releases a quick shot that beats Quick and gets the Pens back into the game at 2-1.
IS RUSTY STILL IN THE NAVY?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2019
In his last 11 games, Bryan Rust has recorded six goals and seven assists. pic.twitter.com/zRODjB8n4w
The Pens get a power play soon after this, but Zach Aston-Reese takes a needless offensive zone boarding penalty while on it. Then when Pittsburgh almost has it killed, Jack Johnson interferes with Toffoli well away from the play and the Pens have to (and do) kill off 17 seconds of a 3v5 and then the other penalty as well. But still, two avoidable penalties taken by the Pens make what already was a difficult night all the more challenging.
Pittsburgh gets their chance at a 5v3 though, Toffoli takes a holding call and then just 29 seconds later Joakim Ryan goes for hooking and the Pens get 1:31 worth a 5v3, badly needing to find their first 5v3 goal of the season. And they get it. Guentzel slides out from screening the goalie to wisely make himself a pass option for Letang. Letang hits Guentzel who finds Rust right in front for a quick shot that goes off the pad of Quick and in the net. 2-2 game.
*In his last 11 games, Bryan Rust has recorded SEVEN goals and seven assists. pic.twitter.com/s2mBWUqKHl— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2019
Tremendous job by Guentzel to hint at the further cross-ice pass, then pull back to find Rust.
Shots in the period are 12-5 LA, 12 stops by Jarry in the period and the Pens get two goals on their five shots in the frame to send the game into the third as a tie game.
Early in the period Sam Lafferty delivers a dangerous hit that goes uncalled for boarding on Blake Lizzotte, but really coulda/shoulda been a call. Adrian Kempe steps up for his teammate and gets into a tussle fight with Lafferty who answers the bell and drops his gloves.
The Pens take the lead with Letang making a zone entry and then putting the puck to the net. Quick can’t handle it cleanly and leaves a rebound for Blueger to tap into the net. Nice for Blueger to atone for his interference in the first period to get that back personally and push Pittsburgh to their first lead in the game. 3-2.
HE USED HOCKEY TO SOLVE THIS! GO TEDDY, GO! pic.twitter.com/5ElBW43Bj1— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2019
A bit later Anze Kopitar sneaks behind Letang and gets a breakaway. Letang gives him a small slash and Kopitar still gets a clean shot away, which Jarry stops. Still, on the breakaway it’s a penalty shot. Kopitar makes a flashy little backhand move but Jarry sticks with him all the way.
Shortly after, the Pens deliver a KO shot from no less than Jack Johnson. Despite already scoring his yearly goal, Jonathan Quick is in the Christmas spirit and allows a pretty weak goal after whiffing on a McCann effort and letting Johnson flutter a backhander over him and in the net. 4-2 Pens with 8 minutes left.
But LA turns the tide. Jeff Carter shoots from distance and Jarry kicks out a mega rebound that pops out right to Kyle Clifford who flicks it in. 4-3 Pens.
The Kings tie it up when Michael Amadio finds the puck after a huge cluster-f by the Pens collapsing down defensively but failing to find the puck. And I don’t even know what they would have done if they did. The refs wisely see it loose, don’t blow the whistle and it’s a good (if disappointing) goal to allow. 4-4 tie game.
Dominik Kahun then gets buried into the boards and leaves the game injured, no call.
Some exciting back and forth, the Pens get the best two chances when Rust is in on goal all alone but Quick makes two saves on him and Blueger races down for a juicy rebound but can’t beat a sprawling Quick.
So that makes for a rare..
Guentzel goes first, misses the net shooting high.
Amadio goes next, can’t beat Jarry on the forehand deke when he loses the puck.
Letang leads off round two, he also bobbles the puck on a deke and can’t score.
Toffoli goes next, shoots high.
McCann comes in with speed, shoots off Quick’s glove and glances the bar while going out of play.
Kopitar with a chance for the Kings to win. He shoots on Jarry who comes up with the save.
Rust goes in Round 4 for his first career shootout attempt, he dekes coolly to the backhand and lifts the puck over Quick. It’s Rust’s third goal of the game (but not technically a hat trick).
Kempe needs to score to extend the game, but doesn’t even manage a shot attempt as the puck rolls off his stick after making a move.
Pens win it the hard way 5-4.
One final thought
“If you’re gonna be dumb, ya gotta be tough”. The Pens might not have necessarily been “dumb” as the Roger Alan Wade song goes, but they still found a way to get back up. What a game of wild swings. 2-0 LA. 4-2 Pens. 4-4. Pittsburgh found a way to get the two points in the standings after the skills competition, and were lucky to do so since the ice was really bad and no one (except Rust somehow) could handle the puck in it. Rust was awesome on the night. Letang and Guentzel notched three assists. Jarry gave up 4 goals but also made 38 saves. In the end, it added up to be juuust enough against a last place team, but hey, without Crosby/Malkin/Dumoulin, you take the 2 points for the standings 10/10 times.