The undermanned Pittsburgh Penguins jumped out fast in Vegas, and then found a way to hold on for dear life to get the win.
“We weren’t at our best,” coach Mike Sullivan said after the game. “We certainly have to be better moving forward, but I give our players a lot of credit. We’re fighting hard, competing hard. It’s never for lack of effort with this group. They find ways. They dig in.”
The way the team found last night was to use a blitzing start that saw the Pens score two goals within the first 7:10 of play to really tip the game in their favor on the scoreboard.
First it was Evgeni Malkin continuing his run of excellent play, finding a puck that had bounced off of Marc-Andre Fleury a couple times and absolutely wiring a backhander to the top shelf just 2:53 into the contest to make for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead.
The Pens struck again with Patric Hornqvist sweeping in a rebound past Nate Schmidt and Fleury to extend the lead to 2-0.
PATRIC HORNQVIST, EVERYBODY! pic.twitter.com/3YvNT8ZjQa— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 8, 2020
From this point on the Vegas response would come fast and furious, with shots on goal in the first two periods being a lopsided 25-12 VGK advantage. But newly named all-star Tristan Jarry held tough and it was Pittsburgh who would score the next goal, which came early in the second period on the power play by Dominik Kahun, off another backhander that came as a result of yet another rebound by Fleury left in a danger zone.
The magic of the backhand pic.twitter.com/ggb3qivwzi— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 8, 2020
The Golden Knights would rally at this point, after the Pens failed to clear the zone with an uncharacteristically weak attempt by Zach Aston-Reese, Max Pacioretty opened the scoring for Vegas to make the game 3-1.
It starts with one pic.twitter.com/jho19mBO4d— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 8, 2020
Vegas’ power play then struck in the second to bring the lead to just one when Paul Stastny redirected a Shea Theodore point shot.
The third period started with the Pens on the ropes, having given up those last two goals and getting badly outshot. Luckily for them, they got one more tally early in the period when a long Kris Letang lead pass put Brandon Tanev in all alone. Tanev swept the puck around the patented Fleury poke check and had just enough room to dump the puck beyond the leg of Fleury as a result. Huge goal to make it a 4-2 lead for the visitors to cling to.
Just what we were lookin' four. pic.twitter.com/0B1VPuNXdX— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 8, 2020
From there, the Pens went into a hold-on mode. Reilly Smith scored with under 7 minutes left to keep the game interesting and a comeback within striking distance at 4-3, but the equalizer never came for Vegas and time ran out, giving Pittsburgh a big win.
“Every night is going to be different, and every night you need to find a different way to win,” Jarry said. “I think we’re just putting pucks on net and hoping one or two get past them, and that’s what happened tonight.”
And find a way, the Pens did in this one. They’ll play again on Friday night in Colorado for the second leg of a three-game western road trip.