No Evgeni Malkin (suspension) or Olli Maatta (injury) makes for the returns of Teddy Blueger and Chad Ruhwedel from healthy scratch land. Zach Aston-Reese is also back from injury and bumps Dominik Simon (healthy).
After a brief period of two out of conference teams feeling out the first few minutes, the Oilers strike on a counter-attack. Kris Letang steps up to lead a rush, which is fine. Tanner Pearson maybe loses the puck too easily, but really here you have to tip your cap to Edmtonton defenseman Oscar Klefbom. Klefbom, while getting hassled by Pearson, manages to smack the puck about 30 feet with pace right to Connor McDavid. Nick Bjugstad is no where to be seen as McDavid rockets down the ice on a 2-on-1. Brian Dumoulin’s job is not to let the pass throug, but again, it’s McDavid. He hits Leon Draisaitl in stride and Draisaitl unleashes a nice short-side shot past Matt Murray. 1-0 Oilers just 4:45 in.
This seemed to put the Pens back on their heels, they didn’t get a lot going for the rest of the period. One glorious chance was a stretch pass by Letang to Sidney Crosby who found the wide player in Bryan Rust. Rust hit Jake Guentzel with a pass and he had a full net to shoot at, but was moving at great speed and just missed the target. That looked like the one real solid chance for Pittsburgh to get back in it, and they couldn’t.
Shots 11-8 Edmonton after 20 minutes.
Just 1:55 back, Pearson gets a penalty for closing hand on the puck. But it’s the Pens’ PK unit that gets some magic going. Dumoulin does well to poke the puck away from McDavid and Matt Cullen leads a rush. Dumoulin also, boldly, provides a center-lane presence and drives to the net, given Rust a big look at the net. Rust sails the shot wide but Cullen recovers and calmly holds the puck, Rust gets the pass back and tucks it past Mikko Koskinen and we have a 1-1 game!
Not too much later, Pittsburgh takes the lead. Great shift by the Crosby line, Teddy Blueger hops on for a line change and passes the puck down to Kris Letang near the goal line. Letang centers the puck and Blueger finds it in space and buries it. 2-1 Pittsburgh.
Edmonton gets the game’s second power play when Rust holds a guy. No goals for either side.
With 4:37 left, Pittsburgh gets their first power play when Adam Larsson elbows Crosby, following Sid getting denied by a really nice save by Koskinen. The Pens’ power play is just OK, looks a little better than some recent “efforts” but no goal still.
McDavid gets a breakaway and Letang has to hook his arm, the ref dramatically orders a penalty shot with a demonstrative point to center ice (liked that touch, by the way). Matt Murray stares down the most dynamic offensive player in the game, doesn’t bite and flashes the big glove save to combat every h8r and silence the critics.
Shots in the period end up 16-11 for Edmonton, but it felt like a much better period for the Pens, and not just because they scored two goals, but it is a results-oriented business and that’s good enough to send them to the third period in a winning position.
Pretty quiet period, both teams fighting hard, but Pittsburgh is actually.....trying to play defense? Dropping players into a passive neutral zone look or dare I say, trap? It must be almost spring.
McDavid doing his damnedest to get Edmonton back in it, but Crosby is checking him and leaning on him at every turn.
The Oil pull their goalie and take a timeout, the Crosby line does great work to limit McDavid, they chance and Jared McCann scores long-range on an empty netter to make it 3-1 and seal the deal.
- Phil Kessel off the top power play lasted one game. Probably for the best considering Malkin wasn’t available, but the Pens were back to their traditional 4Forward + Letang power play personnel.
- It’s so great to watch Crosby play against McDavid. It’s like if you have an older dog, but then he sees a new younger dog full of energy, the old boy is going to do more than his best to keep up and show he’s as lively as the pup. Weird analogy, but it seemed to fit while watching. Crosby has that extra purpose in his stride, was making all kinds of sick backhand no-look passes, attempted shots lefts and right.
- In that sense, it’s kind of cool Crosby/McDavid meetings are rare enough to be special. I’m sure it would be fun to watch them play 4-5 times a year as division rivals in some kind of other universe, but since it only happens a maximum of twice a season that extra air of exclusivity.
- They didn’t have much a choice with Malkin out but Bjugstad at center wasn’t impressive. He and Kessel couldn’t get on the same page on rushes and zone-entries staying onside and with pace often times. Not taking too much out of one game but it didn’t look smooth.
- Had to feel for Chad Ruhwedel in his first NHL game in almost 90 days (he did get a conditioning stint in “Wilkes” for a few games). He got stung with a few shot blocks and that must have been a new feeling to get re-acquainted with.
- Interesting to see Teddy Blueger get a jersey tonight and a regular LW in Simon goes to the press box. Obviously with the results of what happened tonight, no need to change that up for next time, but with Malkin coming back it will be interesting to see which forward might be the odd man out (Garrett Wilson, perhaps?)
- No coincidence the two goals the Pens scored, defensemen jumping up in the play. Big key to go high-low with the puck and also have guys willing and able to jump down.
- Matt Murray stops 38/39 to pickup another win. Great week for him so far, now to just stay healthy...
- Always big to win this time of year and move the needle that much further. The Oilers aren’t a good team, but the Pens never shut anyone down and they managed to find a way to close out the game quite easily there in the third period.
Now, a bit of a break. 2.5 days to get to a Saturday afternoon matinee with Calgary. We’ll see Malkin back and maybe, just maybe it’ll be time for Justin Schultz too.