The Penguins’ perfect attendance club shrinks from 4 to 2 as Brandon Tanev (illness) and Dominik Simon (out with injury) miss their first game of the season — leaving only Teddy Blueger and Marcus Pettersson going 65/65 so far this year.
But the bigger story is the defensive returns of Brian Dumoulin and John Marino, who both immediately jump back into top-four roles.
And the first time Marino steps on the ice, he scores. Evgeni Malkin plays the puck diagonally back to him and Marino just quickly puts a puck on net and...It works. Somehow Craig Anderson doesn’t track it through the traffic of Bryan Rust in front, and it’s 1-0 Pens just 48 seconds into the game!
ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 4, 2020
John Marino picks up right where he left off. pic.twitter.com/c4og8WWlZe
Pittsburgh keeps going. Brian Dumoulin makes a nice pass over to Conor Sheary (nice when the first pair LD isn’t an offensive black hole!) and Anderson is WAY out of his net for some reason. Sheary centers for Sidney Crosby to have a wide open tap in but the puck bounces in off Senators defenseman Mike Reilly instead. 2-0 Pens and it’s only
OH SHEARY!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 4, 2020
Just like back in the day! pic.twitter.com/vozKgUonz9
With everything going the Pens’ way, Jack Johnson contributes by taking a penalty and sending Ottawa to the game’s first power play. Pittsburgh kills it off relatively easily.
The game settles in a bit, the Pens get their first power play when Bobby Ryan holds his stick. Pittsburgh doesn’t get much going on their chance with it either.
Soon after, Ottawa strikes. Jayce Hawryluk gets to the net, finds the loose puck and slams it past Matt Murray. 2-1 Pens.
The Pens get a second power play, and they make this one count. Patric Hornqvist with the net-front action (duh) and Bryan Rust fires from the middle of the ice to tally his 25th goal of the season with just 45 seconds left in the period to push their lead back to two,
Shots are 10-8 Pens for the period. Faceoff wins, interestingly enough are 21-7 Ottawa, especially since Artem Anisimov left after being injured in his first shift when teammate Bobby Ryan checked Malkin into Anisimov.
Second period settles in after the flurry at the end of the period. Almost six minutes into it, Sidney Crosby gets high-sticked and bleeds a tiny amount, that draws a four minute penalty. Pittsburgh doesn’t do a lot with this one.
Sam Lafferty takes a penalty to give the Sens a chance, but they don’t strike.
Some nice work down low by Conor Sheary and Jason Zucker, the puck gets to Crosby who steps out to better his angle then blasts a shot that hits traffic and jumps into the net. 4-1 Pens.
Shots in the second are 10-9 Ottawa. Low key good period for Murray there.
The quickly coalescing first line strikes for another goal on the first shift of the third period. Crosby makes the cross-ice pass, Sheary makes a great centering effort and Zucker’s right in front of the net to lift a backhander past Anderson. 5-1 Pens.
Crosby: 1G-2A— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 4, 2020
Not too shabby. pic.twitter.com/kkWmhhbYc0
Brady Tkachuk gets one goal back, making a nice tip on a Nikita Zaitsev shot on the following shift to bring Ottawa back to 5-2.
Brady redirects his 19th goal on the season.— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) March 4, 2020
GOAL: Tkachuk (19)
ASSISTS: Zaitsev (10), White (13) pic.twitter.com/mfwd089P5t
An unusual sequence for NHL hockey, with a flurry of penalties in the third. Sheary goes to the box then Thomas Chabot does a bit later, it cycles through. Dumoulin gets called for tripping and the Pens get stuck in their zone a bit. Just after the penalty expires, Marino gets a little too wide defending on the rush (first game back, after all) and his stick check is late on Connor Brown and might have contributed to changing the angle as the shot fires past Murray to make it a 5-3 game with still 8:33 away from the final whistle.
But any doubt is removed by the Pens’ second line. Nice shift by Evgeni Malkin who gets the puck down to Patrick Marleau driving the net. The puck hits Anderson and sits perfect for Rust to get his second goal of the game. 6-3
In the game’s dying moments, Rust scores his third goal on the rush, sliding a shot five-hole by Anderson to make it 7-3 and bring on the hats for his 27th goal of the season.
And that will be it. On ‘90s night in the arena the Pens put up a seven spot and get the win.
A fast start. Among the problems that helped contribute to the Pens’ six game losing streak were slow starts - Pittsburgh had given up the first goal of the game in all six games. Their power play also struggled. They were getting no puck luck at all. Well in the first period alone that got erased for one night. Marino scored early, Sheary put a puck in off an opponent, the power play struck late in the first and Pittsburgh was back off to the races. In the last three games alone, the Pens scored a TOTAL of three goals. They matched that in the first 20 minutes alone.
Better blueline. Doesn’t take a genius to see the Pens are a million times better with Dumoulin and Marino back, and to round out the top four with Kris Letang and Marcus Pettersson. Now THAT’S the backbone of a team that can move the puck, skate, bail each other out. It hasn’t been available for 37 games. Now, finally, it is again. Marino especially was sensational (and to the eye just looks like a million times more impactful and better than Justin Schultz has in ages, doesn’t he?). Dumoulin made it look easy, as he almost always does, seamlessly getting back on the top pair playing 19:52.
First line getting to where they want to be. It feels a bit lost that Crosby grows with on ice chemistry and familiarity of linemates. Everything about Sid is repetition, routine, even superstition. He’s a creature of habit. Getting Sheary back took a few games, and Jason Zucker is still relatively new to the team and line in his 11th game now with Pittsburgh. Those guys were on big time tonight, as you can see some of the quick passes working and the trio was on ice together for three ES goals, multi-point nights for all three. That’s great to see. It was Sheary’s best game back in Pittsburgh (which...it’s still only been four) and all the things you want to see is growing right before your eyes. They won’t generate three goals per game, but as they get more time together, the cohesion will only improve.
Leadership. Sidney Crosby often speaks vaguely and with cliches to the media, giving them a little bit of information but mostly vanilla answers. That wasn’t the case after the Pens lost on Saturday night and were totally reeling, Crosby owned all the team’s struggles as his own. That’s what strong leaders do when times are tough.
“I put it on myself,” Crosby. “I got to step up in key situations. When you’re down like this, losing games, you need big plays, big performances and I haven’t done that. That’s on me.”
But words mean nothing without actions backing them up. Crosby scored three points tonight and was the most visible/best player on the ice (up until the end when Rust racked up some goals, anyways). And it coulda, shoulda had another goal when Sheary gave him a nice pass but he couldn’t connect (the goal would score anyways as the Ottawa player knocked it in, Crosby did not get an assist). The reeling Pens, after losing six straight, desperately needed someone to step up on and off the ice. It’s less than a surprise it was their captain.
Finally with the win, the Pens can feel confident and smile for the first time in a while. They head up to Buffalo for a game on Thursday, and against a Sabres’ team that they’re 0-2 against this year.