The Penguins roll the same lineup as last game, with the usual goalie switch so it’s Tristan Jarry back in the crease.
A fairly dull opening frame. Shots are 8-6 Pens. The Canadiens get the period’s only power play early and do very little with it, in fact Brandon Tanev jumping out to a breakaway was the most exciting thing, though Carey Price easily shut him down. Scoring chances at 5v5 are 8-3 Pens, including a great chance for Bryan Rust right in front courtesy of a nice feed from Jason Zucker.
Early in the second, Jared McCann picks the pocket of a Canadien and gets a breakaway but Price calmly stops him.
The Pens’ first line starts to build on a good shift early, Zucker again sets up a play, this time for Crosby. Price makes a pad save but Ilya Kovalchuk slashes and Pittsburgh gets their first power play of the game.
Zucker nearly scores on the rush, showing great speed and dekes backhand. Had a lot of empty net but just couldn’t handle it. The top group gets out there and Kris Letang hammers a shot off the cross-bar. The Pens keep working it and Letang gets a second chance, beats Price again AND this time hits the net too. 1-0 Pens.
BUT! (That means goal in French).— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 15, 2020
And we like the sound of that! pic.twitter.com/xmuEG70Zxf
The Pens stay on the attack and the Malkin line has a good shift forcing Ben Chiarot to slash McCann to grant Pittsburgh a second power play. Joel Armia gets a breakaway but shoots wide. Montreal kills it off. The Habs get their second power play of the game courtesy of a Zach Aston-Reese offensive zone penalty. The Pens kill if off.
And then...Welcome to the team for real, Jason Zucker. Dominik Simon starts the play, as he often does, winning a puck back that Sidney Crosby is able to corral and jump off up the ice on a rush. Crosby sees Zucker across the ice and wires a pass for him. Zucker one-times it and Price can’t quite go side-to-side quick enough to take it away. 2-0 Pens on Zucker’s first career goal with Pittsburgh and it’s a beaut.
Our gift to you this Valentine's Day: this beautiful goal. pic.twitter.com/ahKqXj6O7K— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 15, 2020
Next shift though, Patric Hornqvist goes to the box for slashing when he breaks a Canadien player’s stick. Montreal strikes on the power play with Tomas Tatar shooting five-hole by Jarry to get MTL on the board. 2-1 Pens lead with 53 seconds left in the period.
But the Pens don’t just limp into the period. Zucker makes a nice zone entry and gets the puck to Crosby. Crosby hits Marcus Pettersson with a nice pass and Zucker drives to the net. Pettersson centers it and Zucker is able to chip it in for his second goal of the game to re-extend the lead to two goals at now 3-1 with just 18 seconds left in the period.
Wow, big explosion there. Game opened up a bit and nice to see Zucker really stand out and shine chipping in with two goals in the last two minutes of the period.
A combo nice save by Jarry and defense by Crosby keeps the puck out.
Tomas Tatar gets taken down and doesn’t get a penalty call, but seconds later he clearly wipes out a Penguin and gets called for a penalty and lemme tell ya, he’s not happy, folks! Nothing much happens on the power play but it at least kills two minutes off the clock
Kovalchuk gets a chance at even but hits the post. Jarry makes a few nice saves on top of that. Montreal pulls the goalie and Aston-Rees scores for the first time since the sixth grade picnic to salt the game away at 4-1.
Zuckin’ A. This is why you trade a first round pick and good prospect for immediate help. It doesn’t seem like the puck has been going Bryan Rust’s way, for the first time all season. McCann hasn’t produced much. Simon is a complimentary player. Hornqvist is on the fourth line. Without Jake Guentzel, the team flat out just needs a guy like Zucker who has wheels and the ability to score goals. He came through in a major way.
Pilin’ em up. This was one of those games that you look up and see Crosby had three assists. But then kind of remember he wired a pass to Letang, hit a sublime read for Zucker’s first goal and realize, oh yeah, he was making magic. That’s another benefit of a winger converting for Sid is he’ll tend to have something to do with the play and rack up the points. Win/win, team then wins. Crosby is up to 17 points in 11 games since his return from injury.
More home cookin’. The Pens are really tough to beat at home. They improve to 20-5-4 on the season at PPG Paints, those 20 wins tying Boston for league most. Picking up a point in the standings in 24/29 home games is huge, as is winning 20/29 outright.
The good news keeps coming since very lowly Detroit is coming to town next, giving the Pens as prime a chance as there is in the league today to add more points in the standings. But they won’t soon forget Zucker’s big contributions in this one.