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Penguins/Canadiens Recap: Crosby, Letang reach milestones as Pens win fifth straight

The Pens are on a roll and two of their big stars get individual career milestones in a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens

NHL: DEC 14 Canadiens at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pregame

The Penguins are in familiar formation, with the 15th straight game for this same defensive core and pairs! Not coincidentally the last 15 games have been the best of the season in terms of limiting goals against.

First period

Sloppy start for the Pens, Kris Letang makes a bad pass up the middle that gets turned over, later Kasperi Kapanen pulls up instead of having the vision to see Evan Rodrigues to the middle all alone.

Jason Zucker gets setup on a 2-on-1 and unleashes as a shot that...hits the post. More bum luck and bad finishing for the snake-bit Zucker.

The post luck is more than evened out when Nick Suzuki hacks at a puck at it flutters off the iron and stays out and later Mike Hoffman whistles a shot to the short-side but only hits the metal.

Tristan Jarry is not without stopping the pucks on net, continuing his outstanding play of late with a huge save on Cole Caufield from right in front.

Pittsburgh breaks out of their funk after a TV timeout with an offensive draw. Letang’s point shot bounces out for a crazy rebound that knocks off of a Canadien and Rodrigues. Kapanen is able to almost bunt the flying puck out of mid-air with some nice touch to send it over the shoulder of Jake Allen. 1-0 Pens with 8:52 left.

The first line draws the first power play of the game and gets some zone time, but no goal.

Shots in the first are 8-7 Pens, with a 1-0 lead after 20. Sidney Crosby approved.

Second period

The Canadiens start the period with a procession to the penalty box, first at 1:03 and then Letang gets blatantly trip 17 seconds into the power play, earning 1:43 of a 5v3. It does not go well, with MTL clearing the puck four times, and an errant Pens pass causing a fifth zone exit. Just stationary, no net presence, no Jake Guentzel to take control and shoot, looks bad.

A few minutes after that, Kale Clague trips Crosby and Pittsburgh gets a fourth power play awarded (to 0 for Montreal, so you know what that means..) The Pens actually convert with Letang feeding Evan Rodrigues to blast a heavy shot by Allen. 2-0.

Just 14 seconds later, Mike Matheson coughs the puck up behind the net and a quick pass gifts Jonathan Drouin a chance from right in front. Drouin makes no mistake dekeing to his backhand and burying a shot that Jarry had no chance on. 2-1 Montreal keeps it close.

With all that power play discrepancy, it’s no shocker the Habs get their first call of the game soon after. The Pens’ vaunted PK holds strong.

After the kill the Pens dominate possession in the offensive zone and the Mike Matheson experience gets back the mistake when he takes a Crosby pass and fires from long range past Allen and the screen of Danton Heinen. 3-1 Pens back in control.

The following shift, it’s Ben Chariot’s time to take a penalty, giving Pittsburgh another golden opportunity to blow the game wide open, but their power play doesn’t come through.

Montreal gets a near buzzer beater to end the period. Jeff Carter’s zone exit attempt doesn’t leave the zone and the Canadiens are able to take advantage and draw the Pens out of their defensive structure. Jesse Ylonen notches his first career NHL goal by firing a shot in past Jarry with only three seconds left to make it a 3-2 game after 40.

Shots in the second are 18-8 as the Pens rack up the power play time.

Third period

Pittsburgh matches Montreal’s late second period goal with an early third period strike just 28 seconds in. It’s Brian Dumoulin with his first goal of the season on a Crosby pass to extend the lead back to two goals at 4-2.

Allen, bless him, is still trying his best — he gets a couple of saves on Crosby.

But then it’s Brian Boyle of all players who gets the lead up to 5-2. Boyle lifts the stick of Ryan Poehling and steals the puck and puts a nice shot to the far blocker side of Allen up high. Pens walking away with this one now with 11 minutes left.

Montreal gets a chance right off the drop, but hit another post. With 3:40 left, Carter again can’t clear the puck out of the defensive zone and again Montreal hits the post. My goodness, it is just not their night. Carter takes a penalty with 3:25 left to give Montreal one last power play.

The Pens are able to keep their PK streak alive by killing it off, and that’s all she wrote on this one. Five goals and a fifth straight win for the home team.

Some thoughts

  • The stars got their milestones as discussed from the pregame, with Letang notching career point 600 and Crosby earning his 400th multi-point game.
  • Aside from the two assists (and another assist was taken away on a scoring revision), it was one of Crosby’s best games of the season. The captain had 6 SOGs, a pair of hits, was 50%+ in the faceoff circle. Looked like vintage late-career Crosby controlling the puck all over the ice, having the puck do the work with a lot of passes that weren’t finding their marks earlier as he was working back into form...The old form is looking better and better.
  • A 1/5 power play is 20%, which is OK enough in this day and age (it would rank 13th in the league this season) but the style and way the Pens got to 1 for 5 was just atrocious looking. They squandered a long 5v3 and really having no ideas or form or setup going on. As mentioned above, they don’t have anyone they’re really trying to feed to shots with Guentzel out, there’s no real dedicated player in the Hornqvist spot in front, it’s just...Bad. Luckily Rodrigues made it passable with a nice goal in an instant, which is all you need, but there’s a lot of improvement to be made in this area.
  • The PK is making up for it though by again not allowing a goal to extend the franchise record. We’re now at a full month since Nov 14th, the last time the Pens gave up a goal while killing a penalty.
  • The Mike Matheson experience is just too on the nose. When he has a flub, you can almost set your watch up for an offensive play of redemption. At least it tends to even out? (I guess we’ll let setting a screen on Jarry on the second goal slide).
  • Nice to see some defense from the offense in this one. Other than the late Boyle goal, the defense either scored or started the sequence for the first four goals. A Brian Dumoulin goal before Christmas! Can you believe it?
  • Three point game for Evan Rodrigues (1G+2A) who ties his career-high in goals already. He really dropped the hammer on that shot too. Feels like just another day at the office for Rodrigues, who just goes about his business and is producing points left and right.
  • And it was another steady as she goes game for Jarry in net. He wasn’t tested a lot, and Montreal hitting a few posts helped the cause, but the word for the Pens’ starting goalie right now is control. For the most part he just is in total control, and unless there’s a total defensive breakdown (giveaway in a bad spot, failing to clear zone and screening him), goals aren’t going in. More than all you can ask for out of the goaltender position right now in Pittsburgh.

It’s now a five game winning streak by the Pens, who get the luxury of a couple days off before their next game against Buffalo on Friday night.