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Penguins/Senators Recap: Pens win easily, but lose Jake Guentzel to scary-looking injury

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Pittsburgh defeats Ottawa 5-2, but the lasting impact might be what happened to Jake Guentzel after he scored a goal

NHL: DEC 30 Senators at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lineups

The Penguins make a fairly minor change from last game, with Joseph Blandisi replacing Sam Lafferty (healthy) to rotate some energy guys around. Tristan Jarry takes back over in the net.

First period

As the only game in the NHL schedule on the night, the Pens would have the eyes of whatever hockey world is paying attention by default. And what a start for Pittsburgh! Evgeni Malkin scored on the rush on the first shift of the game just 27 seconds into the contest, blowing a shot by backup goal Marcus Hogberg.

Pittsburgh would make it 2-0, from very unlikely sources. The new line coach Mike Sullivan put together was playing like they were old chums, Patric Hornqvist made a nice defensive play and stretch pass, Joseph Blandisi just chunked a pass to the middle of the ice that Dominik Simon (!!) skated past his guy and got to. Simon also gave a nice little stick lift to ensure he would get the puck, then flipped it backhand for his fourth goal of the season to make the game 2-0.

Pretty much all Pittsburgh early. No special teams time at all (though there was two minutes of 4v4 play), and not much going from Ottawa either. Shots are 15-4 Pens. Goals, 2-0.

Second period

The Senators get on the board 4:21 into the second, they get the Pens running around in their own zone a bit, and Tristan Jarry is bouncing around trying to keep up, but he can’t when Christian Jaros finds a seam in the defense and wires a sweet cross-ice pass for Nick Paul. Paul has the time to pick a spot on the open net and flip it in to make it a 2-1 game.

It only took Malkin 1:43 to respond to this goal and get his second of the night. The play was made by Bryan Rust, displaying a ton of patience to find Malkin with a nice pass. From there, while wide open thanks to all five Sens’ players looking at the puck and not at the most dangerous guy on the ice, the big guy just had to quickly release the puck and just like that it’s 3-1.

The pesky Senators keep at it though and score on the rush. Chad Ruhwedel can’t hold the puck and Ottawa is off. Juuso Riikola switches to try and cover for his partner, but can’t quite do it, and Ruhwedel doesn’t get back in time to reciprocate the switch and pickup the free player that Riikola left. One bad decision piling onto a few more. End result is Nick Paul gets his second goal of the night by swatting in a rebound. 3-2.

But the Pens are there to answer Ottawa’s answer and re-extend the lead back to two goals before the second intermission. John Marino makes a smooth skilled move to bring the puck through his own skates while spinning around and then centers the puck. It’s not perfect, but that’s perfect for Patric Hornqvist who finds the puck and shoots it past Hogberg at a harsh angle. 4-2 Pens.

Ottawa flipped the script with a 14-10 shot advantage in the second, but overall shots through 40 are 25-18 Pens. And most importantly the Pens kept the same two goal lead at the end of the period as when they came into it.

Third period

The Pens make it 5-2 on one of the prettiest — and maybe costliest — goals you’ll ever see. Bryan Rust hits the line with speed and finds Malkin with a pass. Malkin, drives in and leaves a drop pass for Jake Guentzel with a wide open net. He scores but then immediately crashed into the end-wall after Thomas Chabot’s stick was in the way. Guentzel is in immediate pain, favoring his right arm and leaves with no celebrating even in mind. He took that wall without being able to brace at all and with a lot of velocity, that could be trouble. 5-2, but no one is really happy at this point.

And even his head thuds off the wall too. Just not a pretty picture.

Towards the end of the game Malkin gets mixed up with Brady Tkachuk after the whistle and all the players on the ice get together for some holiday pleasantries and post-whistle scrum. Can’t say it was great to watch Kris Letang in the middle of a lot of the hostilities after he was injured early in 2019 in a similar situation. Plus at this point guys like Malkin and Rust don’t need to be using their hands and energy at trying to fight and wrestle with dead-end opponents, they’re better off saving it for goal scoring.

Three final thoughts

Sullivan pushes the right buttons again. The newly formed line this morning of Simon-Blandisi-Hornqvist seemed a bit odd and mis-fiting as random various players cobbled together. But it was one of the team’s best lines. Blandisi was a whirling dervish of activity (including catching a high-stick in the teeth that went uncalled). Hornqvist+Simon through two periods were on ice for 12 5v5 Corsi Events For and just 2 against (best on team). 9-1 edge in shots and 6-1 in scoring chances. Both also scored 5v5 goals, which the team will also need. It will be interesting to see if they can form the Pens’ third line (along with Jared McCann or Nick Bjugstad to center them, with the other playing wing on the top six), or if this is just a temporary move, but for one night what seemed unusual coming into the game looked great heading out of it.

Malkin gets started on the next 400. Career goals 401 and 402 for Malkin tonight, who flexed his muscle and continues to be a dominant force as the Pens keep finding ways to win without Sidney Crosby. For a confidence-based player like Malkin, seeing him score a goal 27 seconds into the game is literally the best thing that can happen. Not only the obvious to put the team out in front from the very beginning, but also because of the rush it gives a star like Malkin to feel good about his game and like it could be “one of those nights” (in a good way). And it was with a 5 SOG, 8 shot attempt, three point effort.

Pyrrhic victory? Of course, official word on Guentzel isn’t yet known, but it would almost be a miracle if he avoided breaking a bone and/or suffering some sort of head trauma after going into the wall so hard after scoring a goal. Such a shame, as before that point there was almost nothing at all to be worried about over this game for the Pens, who skated to a rather easy win in a league where it’s pretty difficult to do so. If there’s any consolation it’s that the team is very familiar with playing through important players disappearing from their lineup, but this was a rather sad ending to a day where Guentzel got named to his first career NHL all-star team and recorded point No. 200 in his young career.