Did anyone notice Nick Bjugstad was back? Well, he’s gone again. Another injury for the big center who was only back a few games kicks Jared McCann back to center and opens up a spot for Sam Lafferty to play. Matt Murray gets back in the net.
Lined up and ready to go. pic.twitter.com/bBsDlFANhS— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 10, 2020
Not a great start for the Pens as the Devils get the first five shots of the game, which doesn’t even include one that P.K Subban rattled off the post. Murray did make a save on a 3-on-2 rush in the mix too.
Still looking for a first shot on goal 8:30 in, Evan Rodrigues gains the blue line, pulls up and snipes Mackenzie Blackwood to the glove side that jumps in and out of the net super quick. Great move by the right shot on the left wing, stick sees a lot of net. 1-0 Pens to begin.
TOP SHELF WHERE MAMA HIDES THE COOKIES! pic.twitter.com/jbmha1nS0B— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 10, 2020
New Jersey is awarded the game’s first power play when veteran defenseman Jack Johnson clears the puck over the glass. The Devils return the favor with Nikita Gusev blowing one by Murray’s glove to make it 1-1.
The Pens’ bounce back again later, and it’s the same line that scored earlier. Patric Hornqvist did well to steal a puck from Miles Wood, Jared McCann was working hard too and got taken down, leading to Pittsburgh’s first power play of the game. The Pens do nothing with it, though.
Shots in the period end up 7-6 Pens overall. Tied on the scoreboard at 1.
The Pens get off to a good start with the top line getting a chance. A bit later it’s their second line that gets a goal. Justin Schultz starts the sequence with some solid defending 1-on-1, which in an of itself is noteworthy these days for him. Play goes the other way on the rush and Schultz jumps into it. Evgeni Malkin feeds Schultz a nice pass and Schultz goes bar down on Blackwood’s glove side to give the Pens a 2-1 lead 4:15 into the second.
ANOTHER GOAL FOR THE PENGUINS.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 11, 2020
ANOTHER ROCKET FOR THE PENGUINS. pic.twitter.com/NQrlnDpIbP
The Pens get a second power play when Jack Hughes goes for a trip, Pittsburgh gets full zone time and a ton of looks at the net, but no goals. Just as Hughes is getting out, an errant Crosby pass gets knocked right to Hughes, no hope for the Pens to catch him. The shot either hits Murray and the post or just the post but stays out. Big time bullet dodged there.
A little later, Pittsburgh gets power play #3 of the day when NJ gets caught with too many men on the ice. This time it does not look as good, and it doesn’t score either!
Jersey has been pretty quiet/shutdown for most of the period, but they get a flurry and some life late. Kyle Palmieri has a lot of space to try a wrap-around and Murray makes a diving, desperation lunge to get to his far post quicker than Palmieri. It’s close but somehow Murray does keep the puck out of the net in the scramble.
Murray giveth and Murray taketh away. This is a big one. pic.twitter.com/PnVs6KSlC6— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) March 11, 2020
Shots in the period are 13-6 Pens (who held a 4:00-0:00 advantage in power plays) but the Pens did generally carry play in the period Overall shots are 20-12 Pens.
Early on, some of the Pens’ best players put them in a hole. Sidney Crosby gets called for an offensive zone high-sticking call, a little careless (and unlucky) swinging his stick around to protect the puck and strike an opponent in the process. Then right after that power play starts, Kris Letang loses his cool and slashes the stick out of Miles Wood’s hands in a very stupid play and the Pens are 3v5 for 1:42.
But, they hold. Great work from the killers, especially the forwards Brandon Tanev and Teddy Blueger who are blocking shots, clearing pucks, skating around like crazy to cover ground. Murray also made a couple of nice saves, including a pad stop on Gusev. Johnson and Bryan Rust also were out there, kudos to all.
Malkin continued his charmed season by scoring on kinda an “excuse me” type of shot on the rush, pushing back the defense and then shooting far-side quickly on Blackwood. 3-1 Pittsburgh.
Evgeni Malkin has made a habit of turning in solid performances against the Devils. In 58 career games vs. New Jersey, he has 56 points (22G-34A). pic.twitter.com/IlQCrPhjQW— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 11, 2020
The two goal cushion doesn’t last long, Nico Hischier does well to lift a puck over Letang’s head that settles perfectly for the speedy Miles Wood to skate up to. Wood scores on Murray on the rush before Brian Dumoulin can track back to defend the shot. 3-2 Pens with 9:36 still to go.
The Pens keep on pushing though. A defensive pinch works thanks to Marcus Pettersson stepping up. Malkin keeps working, and eventually the puck comes to him and he quickly snaps it into the net. 4-2 Pens.
Pittsburgh gets a fourth power play when Rodrigues gets cross-checked with 6+ minutes left. The Pens don’t score, but two more minutes going off the clock helps the cause almost as much at this point.
The Devils pull their goalie and Letang scores a very long range empty netter to seal the deal and make it 5-2 with 1:!5 left.
Juice line. The newly formed Rodrigues-McCann-Hornqvist line was the Pens’ best early on, scoring a goal and drawing a penalty. Rodrigues has been playing some inspired hockey, especially the last couple since being a healthy scratch over the weekend. He would go on to draw another penalty in the third period.
A kill and a momentum change for good, for once. The Pens were on the right end of a long 3v5 kill and then scoring after. That’s the type of advantage they’ve had, failed to score and then given something up. Instead in the third period of this game, it was Pittsburgh that came out unscathed on a long PK and got some good fortune with Malkin’s goal.
Malkin takeover. Two Malkin third period goals were the difference in this game. Add in the primary assist on Schultz’s goal and it was a really, really quality night for what has to be the Pens’ MVP.
Murray’s ups and downs. After surrendering a weak goal in the first period, Murray was able to buckle down, and was the steadier and better goalie in the game. Murray also stopped 17/18 5v5 shots from NJ, which has been a huge problem in the Pens’ net for not getting enough saves there. Wasn’t the prettiest or cleanest, but it worked.
Badly needed win for the Pens to stabilize a bit. And against a Jersey team that hasn’t been bad at all lately, Pittsburgh controlled 61% of the shot attempts and put together a team effort that they can be proud of. Now we see what carries over as the games only get bigger from here with @Columbus and @NYI and some playoff seeding competitors entering the picture.