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Penguins/Rangers Recap: Guentzel’s late goal helps Pens to fourth straight win

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It wasn’t pretty, again, but it was a win, again. The Pens complete a four game homestand with a fourth win, 3-2 over NYR

New York Rangers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin K. Aller/NHLI via Getty Images

Pregame

The Penguins reconfigure their lower three lines for this game with some new combinations as they look to get more at 5v5.

The Rangers, having enough “fun” for now, decide to sit Jack Johnson and rotate Brendan Smith back into the lineup. Too bad!

First period

The Pens get off to a slow start, Chad Ruhwedel takes an interference 4:10 into the game as the first significant moment of the game. Pittsburgh kills off the penalty without much danger.

Not too much else going on, the Sidney Crosby line has a nice shift and puts pressure on and that seems to wake the Rangers up a bit. Tristan Jarry loses a broken goalie stick and doesn’t grab it, and NYR gets a really good chance with him looking a bit out of sorts from the equipment malfunction. 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere has a wide open net and great opportunity for his first career NHL goal, but he can’t finish it.

With 3:24 left, the Rangers do get the game’s first goal. Colin Blackwell, who wasn’t in the lineup last game, tips an Adam Fox shot five-hole by Jarry to make it 1-0.

Shots for the first end up 8-6 New York. Not too many signs of life from Pittsburgh.

All the other lines were new besides the Crosby line, so...yikes. Surely not the changes Sullivan was looking for.

Second period

Jason Zucker gets in alone and drops the puck behind him, for some unknown reason. Just not looking to shoot.

Bryan Rust gets a breakaway early on, Shesterkin sticks with him on the move to the backhand and makes the save.

Then a really weird sequence with Evan Rodrigues, that, well. Gretz summed it up about as well as I could think:

Way worse at full speed than slow motion.

Rust takes Rodrigues’ spot with the Guentzel-Crosby line and on the first shift Sid springs Rust for his second breakaway of the night. This time he goes with a quick forehand shot and it scores. 1-1 game.

New York gets their lead back before the period is over. Jacob Trouba would have scored, but the puck hits Ryan Strome in the crease. Cody Ceci goes swimming in his crease and Strome is able to find the puck and chip the puck over Jarry to re-take the lead. 2-1 NYR.

Shots in the second are 9-7 PIT to bring it back to 15-15 overall.

Third period

Due to the Rodrigues injuries some new lines are tried and one is McCann with Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev. McCann pulls a puck off the wall and just throws a puck to the net. Shesterkin drops early and the shot flutters over his shoulder. 2-2 game just 2:26 into the third.

Cody Ceci hooks Strome, despite not really needing to and New York goes to the second power play of the game. Pittsburgh kills it off, fortunately.

Then, with 1:31, the Pens strike for their first lead of the night. Kris Letang activates and skates down the left side. Jake Guentzel instinctively moves into the open space this creates. Letang dishes the puck and Guentzel unloads a worm burner on the ice that finds the back of the net.

NYR with their timeout and quickly pulls the goalie. The Pens can’t hit an empty net, but they do avoid letting the Rangers get back into the game. Pittsburgh earns their first regulation win, 3-2!

Some thoughts

  • This game kinda looked like the first real game of the season in terms of defensive structure and coaching. Breakouts were better defended for both sides. Less end-to-end rushes. Fewer sloppy penalties and in general just looking like teams are normalizing for NHL action and cutting down on the chaotic first 10ish days of the season that we saw.
  • After the Rodrigues injury and Rust getting to the Crosby line, it was Kapanen and Zucker who were put with Malkin. Nice to see Kapanen step up a bit and the scoring line banishment for Zucker lasted less than half of one game.
  • Shame for Rodrigues to go down in such a weird manner. His time on the Pens’ top line was likely gearing down anyways as Kapanen rounds into prime game shape, but this was a tough one to take.
  • Marino-Ceci were on ice for both goals against. Ceci took a penalty in a game where they weren’t calling many penalties in a 2-2 contest in the third. Hadn’t really thought Ceci was poor in his first two games, but this one wasn’t good. Once in the second he had plenty of open ice in front of him and dumped the puck before the red line when he easily could have coasted for a sec or taken one more stride and gained the blue line. Just little things like that are very infuriating and make no sense from Ceci.
  • Ceci also played by far a season-high of 22:30, which also kind of speaks to the problem that the more a team leans on him, the less sturdy and more opportunity for mistakes pop up. Ceci played the third most minutes of any Pittsburgh defenseman. It was an odd game with no power plays, but this just can not continue moving forward.
  • Speaking of, weird that the Pens got no power plays. One time McCann got cleared out with a cross-check to the back that ended up knocking the net off the moorings. The refs didn’t see it that way, but always weird for an NHL team to commit 0 penalties in 60 minutes.
  • Artemi Panarin rips the Pens to sheds almost every time he plays them, be it with Chicago, Columbus or New York. He was shutout tonight, and only had 1 assist on Friday and another secondary assist tonight. Still, ff you’re the Pens, you take no goals and two assists in two games. It’s still a point/game pace and nice work by Panarin, but largely his performance felt quieter than that.
  • Entering this game, the Pens only held a lead for 33:16 of 311:11 (stick tap Bob Grove). Tonight they only added 91 seconds of lead time to 60 more minutes. However, it was the last 91 seconds, which is the correct time to take a lead.

Unlocking the keys to the game (from the preview)

  1. Two weak PK’s. Pittsburgh’s PK stepped up, killing both Ranger power plays. NYR found the most effective and perfect way to shield a weak penalty kill — stay out of the box altogether. Nice job for the Pens group though, especially since NYR had a PP in the third period in a 2-2 game that might have tipped the game to them if they had been able to score.
  2. Keep shots down. The Rangers had been averaging 34 shots per game, the second best mark in the NHL. The Pens kept them to 25 SOG tonight, which honestly felt pretty good. Overall the Rangers did win the 5v5 scoring chance battle 22-16, per NST, but overall I thought this was probably the the Pens’ best defensive effort and goaltending effort too. Great job by Jarry to lower his GAA into the 4’s and raise his save% on the season to .848%. Still a bit more positive regression needed, but his defense really gave him a good effort for the first time this season, and he held up his end of the deal too.
  3. Avoiding the hole. Well, the Pens didn’t fall in a two goal hole, to break a disturbing trend in the past few games. But, they did surrender the game’s first goal and then fell behind 2-1 late in the second period. Pittsburgh hasn’t really played from a position of strength all season in terms of being ahead on the scoreboard and dictating the game. That’s tough and not the place they want to be, this is a much better team when they’re in front and not chasing the game. But, to their credit, they chased the game in all four games of this homestand, and they end up taking all eight points by securing four wins. Can’t ask for any more than that.

And that will do it. The Pens sweep out the Rangers in a two game set and now will hit the road to meet up with Boston next week.