The Penguins use the same personnel after Christmas as before, but with an interesting change to give Alex Galchenyuk a shot with more skilled players, dropping down Dominik Simon with AHL level tweeners and reuniting what should be the fourth line one day with health with Teddy Blueger.
Lines and defense pairs for tonight ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Oyko0eUtrz— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2019
Just 2:17 into the game, the Pens get the game’s first shot. It’s taken by the most non-threatening forward in Dominik Simon from a non-threatening bad angle, but somehow slips five-hole through Pekka Rinne. Not a great goal to give up, but hey, Pittsburgh will take it. 1-0.
Dominik Simon had that extra jump out of the gate after the break pic.twitter.com/Vv0pPSUj4T— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2019
The lead doesn’t last very long. 2:13 later the Predators tie it, Mattias Ekholm takes a shot from the point that Craig Smith deflected in a way that put Tristan Jarry in no-man’s land, and the deflection took an unfortunate bounce off Kris Letang and into the empty cage. 1-1 game early on.
Pittsburgh gets the first power play of the game and narrowly avoid disaster. Letang and Evgeni Malkin make a couple of very predictable cross-ice passes that are picked off, Ryan Johansen hits a post on a breakaway as a result of one. As that power play ends though, Marcus Pettersson lets a point shot fly that Alex Galchenyuk pickle-stabs into the net and gets it through a leaky Pekka Rinne. 2-1 Pens.
Just 34 seconds after that the Pens put a TKO on Rinne’s night. Zach Aston-Reese drives the puck to the net, Rinne does his part to leave a juicy rebound just sitting there for the taking, so that’s exactly what Teddy Blueger does to take it and deposit his fifth goal of the season to make the game 3-1 and draw a goalie change for Nashville.
You know what happens when you go to the net?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2019
Good things, that's what. pic.twitter.com/XysS4oh413
The normally boisterous Nashville crowd is stunned at what they’re seeing. Rinne’s weak performance and soft goals allowed has the Preds in a big hole after one period. Shots were 10-7 NSH overall, but Rinne had the same number of saves made as goals allowed (3).
After all the contributions from depth players, the Pens’ dangerous top line strikes. Malkin with the zone entry and finds Jake Guentzel, who really makes the magic, fighting off the checking and showing a lot of patience to wait for Bryan Rust to be ready. Rust is ready and has a tap in for his 14th goal of the season, just has to keep his stick on the ice. Made to pretty look easy by the play of Guentzel.
Everything about this is excellent pic.twitter.com/Ww7ruTemyT— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2019
Towards the end of the period Juuso Riikola goes all Bobby Orr outta no where, scoring his his first goal on a really nice handsy play. 5-1 Pens and this one is a laugher.
Juuso talented, Riikola pic.twitter.com/3CQKOpBH8D— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2019
(too bad that doesn’t count as two goals, they both did go in!)
Shots are 23-16 overall for Nashville. Jarry did well making a few saves in the middle of this period when the Preds put a little push on, but the Pens did all the scoring in this period.
About halfway home through this period to the easy win, the Preds start acting like a classic Peter Laviolette diaper-filled team losing. Ekholm slashes Malkin and they wrestle around. Rust also gets in a tussle with Matt Irwin, which after penalties amusingly enough leaves Nashville with just three available defenseman (after, not very amusingly a scary shot block in the chin area bloodied Dan Hamhuis).
Nashville pushed through though, and got a second goal on a deflection. This time it was a Roman Josi shot tipped by Viktor Arvidsson to make it 5-2.
But that would be it for the scoring. Jarry would try for an empty netter with a little over 2 minutes left, up three goals go for it dude! Didn’t miss by much and definitely has the aptitude to score a goal at some point (he did last year in the AHL). The Pens skate away happy after the break with a win.
Three final thoughts
Energized over break. The Pens looked great tonight energy-wise. Of course, you score on the game’s first shot on a weak goal (and add two more) and that’s a natural hockey boost. Still, even a player like Malkin was standing out, skating the puck, tons of jump. Malkin and his wife had social media moments in Vail this week, showing Geno on some skis and it looked like that experience definitely seemed to have his legs in a good place, as well as pretty much everyone else on the team.
Depth shines. If you were going to ask the two forwards in the lineup that were least likely to score a goal, the answer would probably be Simon and Galchenyuk. They scored the first two goals. Nominally a fourth line center, Blueger tallied as well. Riikola got only his first of the year. Great night to take a lot of the burden off the Malkin line, who did create a goal, but weren’t really under any pressure to do so.
Travel and time zones, no problem. Today was a very rare day for the life of an NHL player. Due to the CBA mandated Christmas break, there was no hockey activity from Dec. 24th-26th, which includes travel. Typically the Pens would have flown out to the road town the day before a game, if they could help it, but they couldn’t in this situation. You almost never see an NHL club travel on the same day they play, even in back-to-backs (like this situation) they will fly out at night and at least have the whole day time in to rest and regroup.
Anyways, it made for a unique itinerary with the team having to leave Pittsburgh this morning, changing into the Central time zone, taking a morning skate, starting an hour later than usual and still ended up playing well.
And play well they did. These two teams will shift back to Pittsburgh and play one more tomorrow night.