A major return is a happy one, Sidney Crosby is back for the Penguins for the first time in 2+ months after undergoing a core muscle surgery.
Then, some drama with Minnesota’s lineup. In their official card that they filled out (screenshot below) they listed 13 forwards + 5 defensemen. This is a problem, since the typical formation would be 12F+6D. Apparently there was some mistake where Ryan Donato was supposed to be a healthy scratch, but ended up on the nightly “playing roster”. And Greg Pateryn who was supposed to play was not listed in the playing side. As a result the refs did not let Pateryn (who was dressed and sitting on the bench) play and he left. Donato got dressed, but sat on the bench for almost all the game. So, effectively, due to an error you never, ever see, the Wild were down to a 12F+5D lineup. Very bizarre.
The Pens draw the first power play and then score their first PPG of the night 7:57 into the contest with Crosby entering the zone, finding new PP1 teammate Bryan Rust who coolly handles the puck, centers it for Evgeni Malkin to pop in from right in front. 1-0 early, the crowd and boys are buzzin’ and it feels like one of those special nights already with magic in the air.
Crosby ➡️ Rust ➡️ Malkin ➡️ pic.twitter.com/OUSsoqQ9um— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 15, 2020
The Pens strike again towards the end of the period. Some nifty passing by John Marino and then Dominik Simon to setup Jared McCann with an absolute tap it, but jeez this defense stinks. This looks like the opposite of the famous Wayne Gretzky quote where instead of skating to where the puck is going to be, the Wild are skating to where it was two seconds ago, making it easy for the Pens to snap it around on them. 2-0 Pittsburgh.
Up 2-0 and feelin' just fine. pic.twitter.com/fUYM671pfZ— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 15, 2020
Overall, Pittsburgh got three power plays in the first period, mostly through foolish or avoidable plays by Minnesota. They’re not very good.
Evgeni Malkin gets in behind the defense and then decides to leave a drop pass for Bryan Rust to skate into, instead of, you know, shooting on a breakaway. Looks very pretty when it works and the hapless pair of Wild defenders allow this one to work pretty easily. Poor Devan Dubnyk. 3-0 Pens.
Another power play, another power play goal! Kris Letang works the puck over to Evgeni Malkin who puts it to the net. It either deflects off the defender or Patric Hornqvist, but it really doesn’t matter since either way it sends the Pens up 4-0 in a laugher. (It’s Malkin’s second goal of the game, it hit Ryan Suter).
In the afterglow of that goal, the Wild do manage to show some life and get on the board, driving in on the rush and Kevin Fiala passed over to Zach Parise who was able to use the change of angle to beat Tristan Jarry. 4-1 game that still feels like it could be 40-1.
The Wild aren’t going away quietly though, Joel Eriksson Ek passes the puck through Letang, and for the first time all season Jack Johnson isn’t in front of his goalie, which proves problematic when Marcus Foligno dekes forehand on Jarry and slams home a goal to make the score 4-2 just 2:15 into the period.
Not sure if Andrew Agozzino (who you barely see at the end of the GIF) was supposed to track with Foligno better or what, but yeah, that’s a breakdown somewhere.
But it didn’t end up being a real turning point in the game thanks to Sidney Crosby scoring two points in a span of 0:39 later in the period.
First, Crosby scored. McCann got taken down and a penalty was being called as McCann got the puck over for Sid. Crosby looked as if he was really trying a backhand pass for Simon, but Matt Dumba knocks it into his own net. 5-2 on Crosby’s first goal of his return.
Then in perhaps the snazziest play of the game (since Malkin’s pass at least), Crosby banks the puck off the back of the net Milan Kraft style (only it worked) and left the defender totally in the dust and got to an angle to make a pass for Simon to score and make it 6-2 and turn the game back into a joke.
Simon knocks it home after Crosby does some solid stickhandling behind the net.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 15, 2020
Letang on Crosby's return earlier today: "It’s exciting for us. I don’t expect less than him being the best player out there."
So far, so good. pic.twitter.com/pdqWYGMEpz
Then things got so bad for the Wild, they allowed Alex Galchenyuk to score a goal.
Parise then proceeded to score one of the most pitiful goals ever to put one of the most meaningless goals of the season up with 10 seconds left to put the score at it’s final of 7-3.
Mega Powers. The Pens seemed to feed off the energy and excitement of getting Crosby back in the lineup. Sid was incredible, as he always seems to be in his return — or any game at all (1G+3A, 3 shots on goal, winner of 11/17 65% of faceoffs). but it was really Malkin who remained the best player on the ice for most the early portion of the game with a 2G+1A night, the eye-popping assist with his drop pass. The “Malkin elevates his game without Crosby” narrative won’t like Malkin performing so well even with Crosby, but as long as the Malkin+Rust combo stays in tact (which, it will) then there’s a great chance we’re reminded to see what it’s like again to have two star centers in the lineup once again.
Feels like old times. Before tonight, the Pens had Crosby+Malkin healthy and taking shifts for I believe only four full periods (three of them in the home opener then the first period of the Chicago game in November). It was great to see them both back, both making plays all over the ice, helping the power play actually look dangerous AND get results. Man, felt like the good old days. Keep enjoying them while they last!
Don’t look at the parade map yet. Everything these days is an extreme over-reaction either good or bad, but don’t be tempted to over-inflate this one. It was a great win. It was thrilling to see Crosby back and back at 100%. Scoring 7 goals is fun. Winning is great. But it’s just one game. Against a bad team that’s playing poorly and that was disjointed, only had 5D, took a ton of dumb penalties. So, yeah. It’s going to get tougher (especially with two games upcoming against the Bruins in the next week). But, there’s every reason to be as comfortable and satisfied as any point of the season. The Pens’ machine keeps rolling on, and just added back the strongest cog in that machine who is ready to do his part to help it keep going. That’s fun. It’s not the greatest moment of the season, even if it might be the best moment of the season so far.