COVID takes four players and the head coach, but the Penguins get Kris Letang back. P.O. Joseph gets on the books for his NHL season debut as well.
Lined up and ready for hockey. pic.twitter.com/xzt4VtNPSC— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 4, 2021
The Penguins get off to a fast start and strike just 16 seconds into the game. Mike Matheson throws the puck to the net from the wall that Brock McGinn is able to tip in front and through the five-hole of Carter Hart. Nifty play by McGinn to actually get a piece of the puck between his legs, and it flies to the top shelf. It’s 1-0 Pens just like that.
The Flyers are granted the game’s first power play 6:40 in when Joseph gets called for interference, but the NHL’s best PK holds.
Back and forth skating the rest of the period, Pittsburgh gives up endless 3-on-2 rushes but find ways to break up passes, or get saves from Tristan Jarry when needed. Shots in the first are 17-8 in favor of the Flyers.
The shots are lopsided, but it’s a bit of quantity vs quality with the Flyers only holding a 0.97 to 0.90 xGF advantage through 20 (per Natural Stat Trick) despite Philly throwing a lot more rubber to the net. The Pens had by far the best scoring opportunities with a 7-4 edge in high danger scoring chances, including McGinn’s deflection from point-blank range.
The Pens get it going more in the second, a really good shift from the Evan Rodrigues line sees a few really good scoring chances. Hart totally robs Kasperi Kapanen from right in front of the net, then Kapanen gets the puck back and it...rolls off his stick again. If that’s not the perfect microcosm of his season so far, I don’t know what is.
A bit later Brian Boyle draws the Pens’ first power play chance of the game. The Pens don’t score but get some zone time and a few looks at the net so, maybe it’s a bit of an improvement?
Soon after, Danton Heinen goes to the box for a slashing call when a Flyer player just was dropping his own stick on his own; so, cool, cool. The Flyers make the Pens play with Claude Giroux passing down to Travis Konecny who made a spinning move to his forehand and lifting the puck to the top of the net. 1-1 game with 12:23 left in the second.
Pittsburgh is able to answer a few minutes later. Jake Guentzel scores his second goal of the year, pulling up, flubbing on the first time he tried to play it and just hurriedly throws a shot/pass to the net. With Jeff Carter driving to the front the puck somehow slips past Hart. Guentzel looks almost embarrassed to have had that go in, but it’s one they will all gladly take. 2-1 Pens.
The Flyers play in Pennsylvania.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 5, 2021
We play in GUENTZELVANIA pic.twitter.com/XiNUz3hVfA
The Pens get more shot attempts after the goal and tilt the ice back a bit (as you can see the line going up after the yellow dot), but no further scoring occurs and it’s a 2-1 Pittsburgh lead after 40.
Shots in the 2nd period are 16-10 Pens, it’s 27-24 PHI on the shots overall in the game.
Pittsburgh gets a power play when the Flyers take to their ritualistic attempts to maim their former player Mark Friedman. No dice.
Game keeps going, with 6:02 left McGinn takes a penalty for high-sticking in the offensive zone. Doubly unfortunate since it immediately followed him shooting the puck on a 2-on-1 that Hart saved. If McGinn scored, he would have made the score 3-1, instead he goes to the box and Philly has a golden chance to tie the game.
The Pens kill it off to maintain their lead, but can’t stay stable and keep the puck out of their net. Scott Laughton scores on a slapshot after Mike Matheson fans on a pass attempt in his own zone and the puck bounces out on a quick play Jarry had no chance on. 2-2 game with 2:53 left.
SCOTT LAUGHTON TIE GAME pic.twitter.com/A9exxKBw31— Nasty Knuckles (@NastyKnuckles) November 5, 2021
No more scoring in regulation so both teams put a point in their back pocket and move on to fight for a second point for the standings.
It’s Carter-Guentzel-Letang to start the festivities. Carter wins the draw to get the Pens the first chance, Guentzel’s shot is stopped by Hart. Joel Farabee gets a shot that Jarry eats up for a whistle.
Blueger-Matheson-Marino are out for the Pens in the d-zone. Pittsburgh gets the puck out of trouble enough to get Kapanen on the ice, but Kapanen gets burned in his own end by a move from Cam Atkinson. Jarry bails his team out to keep the game alive on Atkinson’s shot.
Carter-Guentzel-Letang again and the big guns get going, Letang with a wrap-around attempt that almost foils Hart.
IN FACT! Hart’s leg doesn’t get pinned to the post and Letang’s backhanded effort DOES squeak over the line before the goalie can recover and get it out. The officials huddle and review with the off-ice officials in Toronto. It’s a bit of a delay but the video doesn’t lie this time. Parallax be damned, it’s a good goal, game over!
Thank you Carter Hart! Thank you Kris Letang! Pens win!
KRIS LETANG IS BACK AND HE'S MAKING US SO, SO HAPPY! pic.twitter.com/2Kmgz9r8LS— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 5, 2021
- Welcome back to the lineup, Kris Letang. Letang played 9:45 of the first period in his very first return from COVID. Given how much the team leans on him and relies on him, it’s kinda crazy he hasn’t been re-signed to this point. Letang had 28:02 through regulation and 28:50 for the whole game. Scoring the winner.
- Something poetic in a way that the COVID list takes Crosby, Sullivan, Dumoulin, Pettersson and Ruhwedel from last game to this game. It sends back Letang. Letang scores game-winning goal against the Flyers. The first part ain’t fun, but a win is a win, and with an extremely short-handed lineup, hey, it’s a great outcome for Pittsburgh tonight.
- Scoring in the first shift was a big relief and helped set the tone for the Pens. So short-handed on the roster, they really can’t afford to be playing from behind. Jumping out to the early lead is the confidence and energy boost they need.
- A boost provided by the Blueger line, getting the rare start of the period (though, as mentioned in game recaps, it’s not so rare when Sidney Crosby is out, often the Blueger line will start).
- McGinn’s goal was his second in as many games, it’s mostly a defensive/checking line, but it has good players and they need to pitch in offensively, especially in times like these. And it’s nice to see McGinn show some finish, Blueger hasn’t scored in six games. Zach Aston-Reese is goal-less on the season. The goals have to come from somewhere on that line, and right not that’s McGinn.
- Joseph looked OK in his NHL debut, he got more ice time (17:02) than Juuso Riikola (11:08), which is somewhat surprising, but then again maybe shouldn’t be. Riikola playing 11 minutes with TWO left handers out of the lineup (Dumo, Pettersson) points strongly in the direction that this isn’t going to be some last-minute Pittsburgh career renaissance for him, they’re just using him out of necessity, and for as little time as possible..
- Really liked Jeff Carter’s approach, he had 10 shot attempts! 3 on goal, 5 blocked, 2 missed the net. Hart didn’t look the most steady and stable in there, so no reason not to sling the puck at every chance on goal. Similarly, another veteran player in Jason Zucker had six shot attempts (4 SOG, 2 attempts blocked).
- In a way, it’s a shame the Pens gave a point to the Flyers late with the Matheson turnover. The Mike Matheson experience was on display with a couple of adventures in the PK immediately before, and hey, when you’re forced to play him 23:20 in regulation, that’s a lot of leaning on for a player that probably is going to have a mistake in his own end at some point.
- After saying yesterday he needs to be better and improve his work ethic, Kapanen did get four shots on goal, and a few good ones. He was at least a bit more visible than other recent games. In a sense he’s a little snakebit, but he still doesn’t much resemble the dynamic, speedy, dangerous player that we saw throughout last season. Hopefully his confidence gets back ASAP.
- One player with no confidence issues right now is clearly Evan Rodrigues. He was back as center, and despite bouncing around to different positions, linemates and roles this season, Rodrigues has been making plays happen on the ice. He’s a fun player to watch from shift to shift right now.
- And speaking of confidence, it’s got to be good for Guentzel to get on the board again. A bit of a fluke, but this could be the type of goal to start a streak in a few games where maybe he can get a few more. Having Carter to center him did look like a pretty good fit on the ice when they had the puck.
The Pens came into this game in last place in the division, and three points back of the Flyers. They’ll leave the night still two points behind the Flyers, but a regulation loss would have been Pittsburgh’s fourth in a row, and had them five points behind Philly and still in the basement looking up at everyone else.
With all the missing pieces, this was going to be a tough game, but it actually was a pretty fun one. The Pens were active all around the ice, got an early lead and played one of the more entertaining games of the season — including a hot finish with an OT goal in an unexpected way. This was a big game to “stay with the pack” and not fall too far behind while the team (hopefully) gets to put the worst of their COVID and injury issues aside and get back to some sense of a normal amount of NHL talent.
That might not be for a while, but the games now matter just as much — especially divisionally. Snagging two points and earning the win to break a losing streak is a commendable night and effort by all. Pittsburgh hosts Minnesota on Saturday night for the next one.