There’s an unexpected twist for the Penguins with their game lineup. Ryan Poehling is out and the Pens decide to use an extra defender (Chad Ruhwedel returning from injury) rather than use the extra forward in Drew O’Connor. Pittsburgh goes with 11 forward and seven defense as a result.
For their part, the hosting Bruins welcome back Tomas Nosek from injury back into the lineup, and then otherwise look as expected.
Good start for the Penguins, who adjusted well to the outdoor less-than-ideal ice conditions and play a simple but straightforward game. Unfortunately for them, Linus Ullmark is showing why he’s been the best goalie in the NHL this season, stopping all 14 of their shots.
On the other end, Tristan Jarry gets clipped in the knee and is favoring his leg very clearly for a while. Finally after a stoppage in play, Jarry is removed from the game and Casey DeSmith is in.
Teddy Blueger takes an offensive-zone boarding penalty for the only power play of the first. Without the services of Blueger (penalty box) or Poehling (scratched), Sidney Crosby gets some PK time, as did Kasperi Kapanen.
Otherwise, the Pittsburgh bottom-end forwards were barely used; Kapanen skated just 0:59 at 5v5 time in the first, Danton Heinen only had 1:15 himself.
Shots in the first period were 14-10 in favor of the Pens. Besides score, they did a lot right.
Penguins generated 69.3% of the expected goals at 5v5 that period, per Natural Stat Trick. Not too shabby going up against the league's best team.— Danny Shirey (@DannyShireyPGH) January 2, 2023
But they didn’t score.
P.O. Joseph takes a very weak penalty early, and as if the refs feel bad, they take David Pastrnak off the ice 10 seconds later to make it up.
Pittsburgh gets a proper length power play later but can’t score.
Game ambles on, for as nice as outdoor games can look, sometimes not much actually happens in them besides the spectacle itself. Half-way through the second, shots on goal in the second are just 2-0 in favor of the Penguins.
Then, finally, a goal. On only his fifth shift of the game Danton Heinen pulls the puck off the boards and feeds Kapanen in front. In only his third ES shift of the game, Kapanen is all alone and beats Ullmark with a very nice shot high and to the glove side to get Pittsburgh on the board. 1-0.
Shots in the second period end up 9-6 Boston, but the Pens got the biggest one of the game so far.
Early on, Matt Grzelcyk trips Jason Zucker and the Penguins are back to the power play. It misses Kris Letang on a look like this and does little either it.
With 14:20 left, Brian Dumoulin takes a tripping penalty of his own and Boston gets a crucial power play. The Pens kill it off but right after it expires Jake DeBrusk makes a sweeping motion to the net and slings the puck into the net to tie the game at 1-1.
The Bruins come to life and are playing their best hockey of the game late. Charlie Coyle dives out and swings a shot into the post. Pittsburgh are far on their heels and pinned in more than ever.
The dam finally breaks, the Bruins rush into the zone and Taylor Hall drives to the net. DeSmith stops his shot but DeBrusk is unmarked in front and slams home his second goal of the period to give Boston a 2-1 lead with just 2:24 in the game.
A picture doesn’t always tell it all, but oh boy this isn’t a good look.
The Pens pull their goalie and make their final push. In the closing seconds they get the puck to the net, and in fact Evgeni Malkin puts the puck in the goal, but it’s after the clock hit 0:00. TNT and the NHL doesn’t bother showing replays, but it appears Malkin is about .6 seconds too late.
- First of all, sending our best thoughts to the Letang family. Due to injury, Kris wasn’t going to play today anyways, but then left the team to be with family in Quebec after the passing of his father. Can’t help but to feel for him on everything he’s been enduring lately.
- It will be interesting to hear from Sullivan about why this lineup was the way it was. If Poehling got re-injured, a lot would be explained. Otherwise, the Pens pretty much voluntarily went with playing three lines of forwards for the most part, given how de-emphasized Kapanen and Heinen’s ice time were. Jeff Carter was playing more at 5v5 than Crosby and Malkin early. Not much makes sense about some of these decisions at the moment.
- The defensive splits and usage were just as confusing. After playing so well lately, Joseph was lost in the shuffle with low ice time. The Pens leaned heavily on Marcus Pettersson, Jan Rutta and Brian Dumoulin, with the other four defenders dressed picking up the scraps. It’s not unusual for a team to ride three defenders, but considering the (lack of) top-side strength in that group, it’s a curious at best type of move.
- Leaning on Dumoulin also resulted in him being on ice for both of the goals against, for those keeping track. The outdoor venue makes this a unique enough one-off type of game, but yeah, probably should not do that again.
- As always, it depends on what the severity of the Jarry injury is and it’s never good to see him hobbled over and in obvious distress. One good thing is that Pittsburgh only has four games in the first 12 days of January. While there’s never a good time to be hurt, there are plenty worse times for a 1-2 week injury than right now, if that is what it ends up being.
- The Pens see their all-time outdoor record fall to 2-3-1 (wins in 2008 and 2017 to go with losses in 2011, 2014 and an OT loss in 2019).
- Tough result for Pittsburgh. They were the better team for more of the game, but Ullmark showed his stripes as the NHL’s best goalie for much of it. Then Boston was able to find a way to adapt to the conditions and have a very good third period and the Pens didn’t have anything for that with only a one goal cushion.
The conditions of this game make it difficult and fruitless to analyze too deeply, though some unfortunate common threads from normal games also carried over with the Pens not tending to a lead and finding ways to lose a game. That said, the Winter Classic is always more spectacle and exhibition than pure NHL hockey contest (even though it counts the same) and at least now is in the rear view. Pittsburgh now heads out west, but it doesn’t get any easier when they see a tough Vegas team on Thursday next.