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Pens/Avs Recap: Pittsburgh crunched under weight of the Avalanche

The Pens get a good start, but don’t have enough to hang with the NHL’s top team

Colorado Avalanche v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Penguins and Avalanche hadn’t seen each other for years, and now completed a quick two-game season series within a matter of days. Colorado took a 3-2 home victory on Saturday and Pittsburgh was looking to avenge the loss.

However, it wasn’t to be. A strong start didn’t yield enough results and the Pens were unable to handle Colorado’s strong pushback in the second period as they regrouped.

Bryan Rust scored two goals in the first period, but unfortunately for him that meant accidentally chipping a puck in his own net when back-checking on Mikko Rantanen. Nathan MacKinnon would be credited for the goal with his centering pass and being the last Avalanche player to touch the ice before it went in.

Rust quickly atoned for that mistake and scored a more conventional goal, pushing a shot past Darcy Kuemper after a big rebound was kicked out. That tied the game at 1-1.

For the rest of the period, the Penguins were the better team but couldn’t go ahead. Natural Stat Trick had 5v5 shots at 15-7 PIT, scoring chances 12-4 PIT and high danger chances at 3-1. It was very encouraging to see the Pens not only hold their own with the NHL’s best team, but actually push the pace of play like they wanted.

With the Penguins owning the first, a response could be expected by Colorado for the second. They gave that response with five of the first six shots in the second period, but Tristan Jarry was up for the challenge for a while but then the Avs started scoring.

Alex Newhook walked around Pettersson and took a shot that Jarry stopped. But the rebound was out for J.T. Compher to quickly deposit to the top of the net.

Colorado caught the Pens’ fourth line on the ice while their top line was out and Nathan MacKinnon did his thing, deke around players and just lifting a shot from distance that ended up going in to make the score 3-1.

After the teams exchange penalties and power plays, Evan Rodrigues gets sprung at 5v5 on his breakaway. The shot goes past Kuemper but Rantanen is there to hold it from going over the line. Kasperi Kapanen crashes the net and in the scramble Devon Toews accidentally knocks the puck over the line and the Pens claw back within a goal at a 3-2 score.

Early in the third the Avs would put some distance in the score when Josh Manson’s point shot eluded the traffic in front and the vision of Jarry and ended up in the net. 4-2.

With 4:57 left, the Avs put a ribbon on this one. Sidney Crosby wins a faceoff clean to Mike Matheson, but it’s bouncing and he has trouble trying to hold the line. He can’t and loses his stick in the process as Colorado counter-attacks on a 2-on-1 with that one not having a stick. It ends predictably with Logan O’Connor able to make the pass over to Darren Helm who snaps the puck short-side on Jarry. 5-2 game.

Pittsburgh pulls the goalie, and it pays off with Jake Guentzel almost karate chopping a puck out of mid-air and into the net. That sends the score to 5-3 with 1:24 remaining and the Pens use their timeout at this point to give the big boys a chance to catch their breath.

Colorado gets the extra dagger with Artturi Lehkonen hitting the empty net to make it a 6-3 game.

The Pens don’t quit, Matheson handles an o-zone faceoff a lot better than earlier and quickly shots low on a puck that Kuemper doesn’t track and ends up in the net. 6-4 game with 31 seconds left and that is where the scoring ends.

Some thoughts

  • All three of the Pens’ sick players from yesterday were able to go today. The only lineup change was Marcus Pettersson in and Mark Friedman out, a move that paid off with Pettersson’s shot turning into an assist in the first period.
  • The Pens weren’t the only team to suffer with illness, it’s going through the Colorado dressing room a bit too with Valeri Nichuskin didn’t play with a non-COVID sickness, causing the Avs to play 11 forwards and an extra seventh defender instead of the typical 12F/6D split.
  • No Nichuskin also meant a lot more room for the Pittsburgh second line to operate. With Nichuskin unavailable, it was a much better game for Evgeni Malkin and his group than it was on Saturday.
  • Crosby was taking his pal MacKinnon to school on the faceoff circle, winning the first six draws between the two.
  • Connor McDavid is probably the king of being able to skate at top speed and control the puck right now, but boy, MacKinnon isn’t too far behind.
  • For the Pens, the story in this one is maybe not missed opportunities but just failing to capitalize when getting the chances. Especially in the first 25ish minutes of the game when they were the dominant team, yet the score remained 1-1. From Natural Stat Trick (mid-way through the third), the 5v5 Corsi battle shows a rise, but no results.
  • There wasn’t much by way of special teams, with the Pens getting just two cracks at the power play, one an abbreviated 46 second exercise since there was another penalty. Colorado had just an extra two minutes of power play work. It seemed like a clean enough game where not much was missed, but more power play chances would have been nicer for the Pens.
  • It was a goaltending rematch from last game, and as good as both goalies were on Saturday (and both were plenty good), that level of play dipped a bit in this game. Jarry doesn’t deserve a lot of blame, but fighting through traffic sometimes trips him up, and it did on MacKinnon’s second goal and Manson’s goal that helped push Colorado out in front big. Kuemper was leaving a considerable number of rebounds for his part.

Colorado clinches a playoff spot with the result, and the Pens are left seeing what the NHL’s top team looks like. Pittsburgh didn’t quite measure up, in large part to not being able to finish their chances early in the game where they carried play and had the opportunity to do so. We’ll see later this week against NYR and Washington if playing this high-level competition might be something the Pens can build on and take back to their Metropolitan Division foes.