Sometimes a weekend matinee NHL game can be a bit sluggish. The Penguins and Jets didn’t get that memo as they exchanged chances, big hits and goals in Pittsburgh on Sunday, including a heart-pounding overtime that saw action and near-misses on both sides of the ice.
The game started rough for the Penguins, who already announced forward Zach Aston-Reese was placed on the IR. Unfortunately, it was a sign for things to come in the first period with forwards going down. Without Aston-Reese, Brian Boyle dressed and the Pens started the game with Evan Rodrigues — not Kasperi Kapanen — on Evgeni Malkin’s right wing.
Lined up and ready to go pic.twitter.com/jRtDTeXC94— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 23, 2022
The first period turned into something of a war of attrition for the home team. Teddy Blueger left the game after being smashed into the boards by Brendon Dillon. Blueger was left a bloody mess, leaving a large trail of red on the ice for his skate back to the locker-room.
Here's the hit by Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon that injured Penguins forward Teddy Blueger.— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) January 23, 2022
There was no penalty. pic.twitter.com/4ngwjDRdIK
Dillon, listed at 6’4, leaves his skates and makes Blueger’s head the principle point of contact, a clear violation of Rule 48.1. No penalty was called on the play.
The next injury was a fluke and self-inflicted when Jake Guentzel’s shot drilled Bryan Rust in the arm. Rust immediately screamed and expletive and headed to the locker-room for the rest of the period.
The next two injuries happened in succession as Winnipeg defenseman Nathan Beaulieu checked a spinning Brock McGinn from behind into the boards. McGinn was shaken up on the play and linemate Brian Boyle stood up for his fallen teammate with a fight against Beaulieu. Only problem was Boyle appeared to hurt his arm in the fisticuffs.
By the end of the first period, Pittsburgh was down to just eight available forwards. Fortunately, Rust, McGinn and Boyle were all able to return for the start of the second period, all apparently not much worse for wear. Blueger was not able to play again in this game.
For a team that usually starts games well and commands the NHL’s best first period performance via goal differential, the Penguins were on their heels early as the Jets looked like the stronger team. The Pens were bailed out time and again by goalie Tristan Jarry, who was playing not only his third game in less than 72 hours, but also performing as by far the best player on the ice for Pittsburgh.
It only took Winnipeg 3:28 to get on the board, though. Captain Blake Wheeler got on the board for only his second goal of the season, scoring off the rush on a backhander against the grain that caught Jarry leaning. Nice shot and he was moving with a lot of speed to make it 1-0.
The backhand beats the glove!— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) January 23, 2022
: Blake Wheeler
: @markscheifele55 #GoJetsGo | #WPGvsPIT https://t.co/K6pZ6GTJCM pic.twitter.com/wGLKQYnST1
But one goal was all Jarry would surrender in the first, making several clutch saves to hold his team into the game.
Part of this game felt like a one-on-one battle of Jarry vs. Winnipeg sniper Kyle Connor. Connor had never scored against Pittsburgh in his career, and he scores against just about everybody. Connor’s mission looked like it was to get on the scoreboard with seven shots on the game, several of them on incredible looks at the net.
Jarry held Connor at bay for a while, but 8:11 into the second period, Connor would finally get on the board against Pittsburgh.
Picture perfect placement— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) January 23, 2022
: Paul Stastny#GoJetsGo | #WPGvsPIT https://t.co/6IiVMl8TLJ pic.twitter.com/An4rS8p2Yy
It only took nine seconds in the middle of the third period for the Pens to get it back. Coach Mike Sullivan decided to move Kapanen back up to Malkin’s line, and it paid off with Pittsburgh’s first goal. Malkin fired a shot/pass towards Kapanen, who just angled his skate so the puck had a target to bounce off of and into the net past Connor Hellebuyck, who was just as brilliant as Jarry.
Let the momentum shift commence! pic.twitter.com/Z4OEDnSTyT— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 23, 2022
Then Jeff Carter took advantage of Hellebuyck’s one major mistake to tie the game just seconds later and send the PPG Paints audience into a frenzy. The Winnipeg goalie left his crease to play the puck, but didn’t move it quickly enough and Carter intercepted the attempt in the corner. With Hellebuyck scrambling to get back in position, Carter quickly flicked the puck to the empty net from no angle, and went in.
JEFF CARTER COMES UP BIG pic.twitter.com/OB4RGnFHZM— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 23, 2022
That would be all the support Jarry would need, making the tie stand through a frenetic overtime and stopping all three Winnipeg shooters he saw in the shootout. Sidney Crosby recorded the game’s lone shootout goal to have Pittsburgh earn the win and the second point in the standings.
The Pens have now won five straight and 16 of their last 18 games. Their long homestand continues on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.