Mike Sullivan probably didn’t sit the team down before the game to impart on them a wake-up call from this Bob Grove tweet, but then again maybe he should have.
Pens are allowing an average of 3.59 GA per game. The only teams allowing more, heading into today's games, were:— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) November 19, 2022
Not good company to keep. Remember, Pens were 5th-best defensive team last season (2.71).
The defensively lax Penguins have been getting stung all season long so far by giving up a ton of goals against. They got stingy on the road in Winnipeg on Saturday night, en route to a 3-0 shutout win. It’s the first shutout of the season for the team, and the 12th career one for Tristan Jarry, making 32 stops along the way.
“It’s always nice when you don’t let anything in,” Jarry said after the game. “I think it was just another good step in the right direction - getting better every game and being a better version of myself every game.”
Coach Mike Sullivan was a little more concise when talking about the game of his starting goaltender, no doubt pleased that he re-found his form.
Sullivan would add, “playing a one-goal game is a really good experience for us to go through. Because you have to be diligent with the puck, and you just have to make sure you have an element of patience associated with your game, so you don’t force something that’s not there.”
It was less than a one-goal game for the majority of it - the rare occasion that neither the Penguins nor their opponents scored in the first OR second period.
Jason Zucker scored what would eventually stand as the game-winner and first goal of the contest 0:53 into the third period. After Jeff Petry advanced the puck out of the zone, Zucker and Evgeni Malkin worked a give-and-go that would culminate in Zucker slinging in a shot from Malkin’s pass to elude Connor Hellebuyck.
Penguins' Rocket > Winnipeg Jets pic.twitter.com/lagPwIi4kg— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 20, 2022
The Pens held tight to that one goal lead that Sullivan mentioned throughout the third period. With Hellebuyck about to depart the ice for an extra attacker, he made a poor decision with the puck. As we’ve seen time and again — when that happens and Sidney Crosby is near, the other team is in a world of hurt. Crosby accepts a gift, uses his vision to make the smart play back for Bryan Rust and Rust had an easy one for his first goal in eight games to virtually seal the deal in this game with 1:34 remaining.
Jake Guentzel would do what Jake Guentzel does and score his fourth empty net goal of the season for good measure.
In the end, it was a get right game for the Pens. They finally played a full 60 minutes, competed hard, didn’t take many unnecessary penalties, didn’t have any defensive breakdowns and got a masterful performance from their netminder.
It’s the type of performance this team hasn’t shown too much in the opening weeks of the season, but will need to bring out more in order to move up in the standings.
- It was fitting the GWG was scored on the Malkin-Zucker connection. Other than the obvious Guentzel-Crosby duo, the best things so far this season are coming from those two working together on the second line.
- I don’t think the Penguins or coaches ever doubted Tristan Jarry, but it has to feel really, really good to watch him get right and play his best game of the season. He’s been shaky and not looking himself in recent games, but tonight was back to “All Star level” Jarry. That guy was around most of last season, and if he sticks around, the team is in really good shape.
- Only two penalties aside for both teams, no power play goals. Bummer but whatever for the Pens’ power play, but the Pittsburgh PK is up to 26 successes in the last 28 times they’ve been called on. This group was really, really bad early on in the year, but now has come around in a major way. Probably a necessity given that the power play is not making a consistent positive impact in the other direction to balance out the special teams ledger.
- Crosby notched his fifth multi-assist game of the season, and second in a row. In the 11 games from Oct 24 - Nov 15, Crosby had three total assists. He’s got four in the last two games. Great sign there to get the captain back on the upswing for production.
- It might be somewhat quiet since Guentzel has feasted on empty nets, but he’s up to double-digits with 10 goals now this year, and he’s only played 14 games.
- Kris Letang logged 26:05 and is starting to round into form himself, which is a positive development. The Pens have basically three defenders they are leaning on right now, Marcus Pettersson and Jeff Petry were in the 22 minute range themselves. The other three were getting shielded - Brian Dumoulin (15:57), PO Joseph (15:30) and Jan Rutta (14:24). That’s usually been the formula to have a “big 3” on defense taking the tough and majority of the minutes, the only surprising development from the beginning of the year expectations is that Pettersson is up, up up and handling it well and Dumoulin has been de-emphasized (which isn’t a surprise based on level of play).
- All the “big 3” defenders in this game carried a 56%+ Corsi share too, per Natural Stat Trick. That could be something that continues to be leaned on and is a really good sign if the arrow is pointing up and all of Letang, Pettersson and Petry can log big minutes and help tip the ice in the Pens’ advantage moving forward.
Great game for the Pens, now they’ll have to turnaround and get over to Chicago for one more game tomorrow night before a couple of days off. The energy reserves might be low, but the confidence and momentum has to be rolling in their favor as well after a performance like this one.