Usually the Penguins’ lineup is pretty easy to follow, but there were several surprises on store for Friday night’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Welcome to the NHL, Valtteri Puustinen! pic.twitter.com/1sIHtb5ETo— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 11, 2022
- Mike Matheson was activated from the IR and placed on the top pair with Kris Letang. It was announced that Brian Dumoulin was out with a non-COVID illness.
- Up front, a couple of changes — one fairly expected and one not so much. It wasn’t a shock that Kasperi Kapanen was a healthy scratch for the first time this season and Brian Boyle got back in. However, the third line saw rookie Valterri Puustinen get in the lineup and Dominik Simon sit out.
The first period was a good one for the Pens. They outshot Vegas 16-5, in part aided by 4:00 minutes of power play to 0:00 shorthanded. Pittsburgh made it count and got on the board with 1:06 left. Sidney Crosby found Matheson with a pass and the returning defender snapped a great shot high past Laurent Brossoit.
Mike Matheson is back and he's making an impact pic.twitter.com/IzeHDXEmjZ— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 12, 2022
In the second period, the Penguins made it 2-0. Brock McGinn used his speed to take advantage of a sloppy Vegas line change. Brossoit stopped the shot but left a rebound that a charging Jeff Carter was able to find before the goalie and use the ol’ pickle stabber maneuver to poke home a goal 2:36 into the second period.
"Just tap it in. Just tap it in. Give it a little tappy. Tap Tap Tap-a-roo.”— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 12, 2022
— Happy Gilmore (and also Jeff Carter on this goal) pic.twitter.com/2QK7mu9YVl
After that, momentum swung to Vegas’ side. Jack Eichel got on the board for his fourth goal of the season when he found a rebound and lifted it over the chaos in front of the net to get the Golden Knights on the board.
Heeeeeere’s Jack! pic.twitter.com/lzIkUL5rjL— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) March 12, 2022
Four minutes later, Vegas found an equalizer. Jonathan Marchessault hit Alex Pietrangelo with a nice pass in open space and Pietrangelo stepped up into the zone and used the extra space in a 4v4 situation to shoot high past Tristan Jarry to make it a 2-2 game at the 8:19 mark.
t— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) March 12, 2022
Pittsburgh came out strong in the third period, Mark Friedman’s first goal of the year gave the Pens the lead back 3:49 into the final frame.
No better time for your first of the season, Mark Friedman (@friedsyy). pic.twitter.com/JAJ5iONkDY— NHL (@NHL) March 12, 2022
With 5:50 left in the game, Vegas sent the Pens to a power play with an offensive zone penalty. The Pens took advantage, with Jake Guentzel tapping a pass over for Bryan Rust. Rust whiffed on his first shot attempt, but quickly recovered and was able to finish it off into the open net for a classic insurance goal to make the score 4-2 with just over five minutes left.
With this power-play goal, Bryan Rust hit the 20-goal plateau for his third-consecutive season. pic.twitter.com/MqhrpPJxOX— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 12, 2022
With about three minutes left, Vegas pulls the goalie and the Pens quickly put it away. Evan Rodrigues skated to space, got the red line and flipped the puck home for the easy goal and to push Pittsburgh off towards a home win.
- It was almost a tough game on the injury front, Boyle went down in a heap early in the second period and slammed his stick in frustration as he left the ice slowly and went right off to the locker-room. A few moments later, a puck hit Marcus Pettersson in the face and he was leaking some blood from the mouth area as he left the ice. Fortunately both players were able to come back and play in the game after getting some repairs.
- Letang didn’t get an assist on the Crosby goal, but check out his breakout pass in the highlight, it was really good. Then Bryan Rust made an equally nice feed for Crosby and then of course the captain’s vision was on point to go across the ice. Tremendous puck movement, as per usual, for that top line on display there.
- It’s always exciting to see a player make an NHL debut and Puustinen was pretty good in his opportunity. He recorded an assist on Carter’s goal (and also had a nice center drive on Friedman’s), and overall looked good moving his legs and getting around the ice and making some nice little passes around. Puustinen’s stat line on the night: 1A, +2, 10:14 played, 1 shot on goal (3 shot attempts), 1 hit, 1 giveaway. Not a bad debut. They didn’t ask a lot of him, especially late in a tight game, but to be expected.
- Given how little the bottom-nine wingers are producing right now, it definitely looked like enough to want to see more out of Puustinen for another game, I would say. (Though with the Pens playing a tough Carolina team up next, perhaps they go back to Simon for that matchup, but at least there’s an option).
- It was also great to see Matheson back. He was activated late in the day from IR, presumably with the developing Dumoulin illness pushing Matheson back in for this contest. But it didn’t look like Matheson had missed a step at all and was very sharp after letting a nagging injury heal up for a couple weeks.
- Per the incomparable Bob Grove, “the last 24 times Pens were tied heading to the third period @ home, they are 15-1-8.” Can make that 16-1-8 now, that’s a powerful stat to show that the Pens are doing a really good job when the game “shrinks to 20 minutes” so to say, if it comes down to it.
- Kris Letang got punched in the head and was able to keep his cool! Progress!
- Speaking of that, wasn’t impressed by Vegas tonight. There was the above mentioned incident where Max Pacioretty gifted Pittsburgh a power play. Late in the game William Carrier took down John Marino late in the game to give the Pens another one late, which they scored on. It was the Golden Knights’ second game in as many nights, maybe some mental fatigue driving some physical errors but it wasn’t a very smart game for them.
- The Pens got crunched in the special teams game against Florida on Thursday, in this game they won that area (killing off all three Vegas power plays) and got a goal on their own. Helped tip the game the other way.
- Great game to get some guys involved. Not surprising to see Matheson score, with eight goals he’s a regular threat from his blueline position. Mark Friedman got his first goal in 17 games this season, small role but a good time to chip in for the eventual GWG. Jeff Carter got his first in 11 games. Can’t hurt Rodrigues’ confidence to see him get on the board too.
- Brock McGinn and Brian Boyle also recorded primary assists, which probably hasn’t happened for either in quite a while. For as much as secondary scoring has been a big problem, it wasn’t on this game.
- Another two point game for Crosby though, to extend his scoring streak. And Rust had 1G+1A as well to continue his torrid production this season. The big guns were still firing.
- No real mention of Tristan Jarry in this game, who stopped 40/42 shots, and he faced 37 in the last 40 minutes of play, too. Just a typical all-star type of performance and night for Jarry, who made a great stop on a Marchessault breakaway, but was more just solid and steady and performing his job at a high level, per his usual this season.
Nice win for the Pens to get back feeling good, and now they have a monster contest on Sunday afternoon where they will look to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time this season.