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Recap: Star power, goalie switch helps the Pens win ninth straight game

It wasn’t pretty but after falling down 3-1 the Pens pull Casey DeSmith and then score four straight goals to defeat the St. Louis Blues 5-3

St Louis Blues v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Pregame

The Penguins get all of Kasperi Kapanen, Teddy Blueger and Brian Boyle back for a suddenly almost-fullish lineup (missing just Malkin and Carter) with Casey DeSmith getting a rare second straight game to start on the front-end of this back-to-back set.

First period

A good start for the Pens, with the right guys leading the way. Bryan Rust had a few good looks at the net, and overall Pittsburgh just lived in the St. Louis zone, commanding a 14-7 shot edge, a 12-4 scoring chance advantage, but can’t pierce Jordan Binnington.

Kris Letang was especially notable jumping up in the play with five shots in the first period alone.

Rust then takes the first penalty of the game late in the period, knocking the stick out of the hands of a Blue player to give St. Louis the first chance at a power play.

Second period

Just 20 seconds into the period, on the carryover power play, the Blues get on the board. John Marino can’t clear the zone and the puck quickly gets over to Brayden Schenn. Schenn has room to step into a hard shot from the right faceoff circle that he drills past DeSmith to open the scoring.

The Pens push to tie the game, but the Blues come back in transition for another goal. Vladimir Tarasenko skates through Brian Dumoulin and then the red-hot Jordan Kyrou gets his eighth point in the last three games when he steps into a shot that hits DeSmith and goes in the net after Letang doesn’t properly close the gap on the trailing player. 2-0 STL.

It gets uglier for the Pens, Sidney Crosby and someone named Niko Mikkola get tied up and start swinging sticks and gloved fists at each other. Mikkola connects with a right that smashes Crosby’s visor into his nose, bloodying the captain. Both players get two minute penalties for it, because, NHL hockey.

Then the Pens get their first power play and their first goal in a 4v3 situation. Rust gets the puck down low, Binnington stops the first shot but the puck pops up in the air and Rust knocks the puck into the net by batting it in. Sweet goal to make it 2-1 Blues as the Pens wake up a bit.

But just as soon as the Pens get close, Casey DeSmith gives it right back. Colton Parayko snaps a wrister from distance and DeSmith doesn’t track it at all, getting beat high to the glove again. 19 seconds after Rust’s goal, the Blues have their two goal lead back, now at 3-1.

Mike Sullivan has seen enough of pucks flying by DeSmith, and puts Jarry in after this goal with 6:11 left in the second.

Jarry makes two nice saves on Robert Thomas and then the Pens go the other way. No one makes Sidney Crosby bleed his own blood, he makes a nice cross-ice pass through a maze of sticks for Rust. Rust elevates a shot past Binnington’s glove and the Pens are right back in the game. 3-2 Blues now with the fireworks really going now.

After a quiet first period, all hell broke loose in the second. Shots were 15-11 STL. Bryan Rust scored twice for the Pens, but the Blues chased DeSmith with three goals on nine shots in the frame. Jarry stopped all six shots in relief in the second.

Third period

The menace Mikkola is at it again, colliding with Jarry 2:35 into the third. Really it looked like Dumoulin pushed him more than anything, but the Pens’ ire at Mikkola is sky high and he takes a goaltender interference penalty.

Pittsburgh gets some good looks on the power play, but don’t score.

The Pens keep working and eventually get the puck in the net. Jake Guentzel’s shot from distance flutters in, and in an irony Crosby outmuscles Mikkola to get inside position and pounds in the rebound. Binnington immediately acts aggrieved, there was a bit of contact so the Blues challenge.

The contact appears to happen when Binnington extends his arm outside of the blue crease and after a lengthy review the refs rule good goal, Crosby was outside of the goalie area. 3-3. St. Louis also given a delay of game penalty for the failed challenge, double ouch for the Blues.

Then it’s Evan Rodrigues time, baby! Just 12 seconds into the follow-on power play, Rodrigues hammers the puck from the left side on a one timer. 4-3 Pens take their first lead with 7:25 left.

Pavel Buchnevich is the next to go to the box for high-sticking and then with 13 seconds left on that power play, Tyler Bozak takes a hooking penalty, which will serve to kill two more minutes off the clock.

The Blues finally get back to 5v5 but can’t get their structure back and the Pens put in the dagger. Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese gum up the zone, the Blues turn it over and Blueger makes a great pass over for Brock McGinn to direct in. 5-3 with 1:39 left.

That will do it as the Pens skate away with their ninth staight win.

Some thoughts

  • The time and place for asking bigger questions will be here soon, but after DeSmith wasn’t sharp on Sunday, he got another crack at it in this game and was equally unimpressive. The Pens had to put Jarry into the game, and they still have a game tomorrow night. The backup goaltender spot in Pittsburgh is officially a problem.
  • Switching goalies was totally the right move by Sullivan, he had no alternative to leave a floundering player to hang in the wind and crush his team’s chances. The Blues had two decent looks at the net early, the puck ended in the back of the net both times. The middle goal was a goat rodeo with Dumoulin and especially Letang, but is another example of where if the goalie can’t step up and help with a save, a team can’t win at this level. Jarry proved it too, with the huge stops on Thomas in the sequence that led to Rust’s second goal.
  • Rust right now is off the charts, with five goals in the last two games — and really, he scored on Nov. 24th in his last game before being injured so it’s six goals in his last three. It’s like he suddenly remembered it is a contract season! (Not really, but nice to see the dam open for him and goals start to fill the net.
  • Crosby isn’t backing down from extracurricular physicality against random rookie defensemen, but it’s never fun to watch the world’s most valuable player exchanging punches with a person barely anyone knows exists. Emotions run too hot but for preservation Crosby has to channel himself better sometimes. Hockey’s wild and physical but there’s no reason, benefit or positive going to come at this stage of his career and life for Crosby needs to be exchanging punches to the face against a Western Conference team in Game #32 of the regular season.
  • Then again, it was a great game afterwards from Crosby too.
  • After not allowing a goal while on the PK in 15 straight games, the Pens have suddenly conceded goals in three straight games.
  • What can you say about Evan Rodrigues at this point? Just a sensational player. The Pens have needed that dangerous right shot on the left side of the power play for ages since trading Phil Kessel. It looks like they’ve finally found it.
  • Top line with two goals, power play with two goals (from star players). It’s a great formula. You always want your best players to play like the best players, and that has been no problem at all right now for Crosby, Rust, Guentzel, Rodrigues and Letang. All of those five had multi-point games and are undoubtedly fueling the Pens right now.
  • First win of the season for Pittsburgh win losing after two periods. They were 0-7-2 before tonight in such situations.

Big, emotional win. The Pens took a punch in the face, literally, but used that to help get in gear. Huge comeback win and now Pittsburgh will set off on a six-game road trip that will test them as the season continues and they look to extend their winning ways.