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Pens/Panthers Recap: Letang is the hero with OT goal and four points in first game back

The Penguins and Panthers both have goalie drama and it shows. Pittsburgh holds on for a wild 7-6 overtime victory. Kris Letang records two goals and two assists, including the winner in his return from injury and the death of his father

Florida Panthers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images


The good news for the Penguins: Kris Letang is back from injury and in the lineup for the first time in almost a month. The bad news for the Penguins: goalie drama is back. Mike Sullivan announced Tristan Jarry as the starter after the morning skate, but plans change. Jarry apparently injured somewhere along the way with only Casey DeSmith dressed.

The other good news for the Penguins: the Florida Panthers have goalie drama too. Youngster Spencer Knight was expected to play, but for strange reasons, the Panthers decide to go with Alex Lyon instead. Lyon surrendered five goals one night earlier against the Rangers.

First period

Pittsburgh starts the game out pretty impressively with zone time and puck control, but they don’t get terribly many good scoring chances and it doesn’t take long for things to get sideways on them.

The Panthers trap the Pens’ in their own end and get some good fortune when a long-range shot bounces perfectly over to Sam Reinhart who from his angle has nothing but an open cage to fire the puck into. 1-0 with 13:18 remaining in the first.

Then it gets worse, Marcus Pettersson heads off on a hooking penalty and it only takes 25 seconds for Florida to double their lead. Florida gets the Pens’ PK totally broken down and Matthew Tkachuk has two whacks at the puck from in front. Jeff Carter tries to save the puck from going over the line (it does anyways) but Sasha Barkov is there to slam it in to leave no doubt. 2-0 Florida after two goals in 1:26.

The Pens then get on the comeback trail. Kris Letang sends ‘er in from the point and Evgeni Malkin makes a fancy redirect on the puck to put it on a platter for Rickard Rakell to chip into the goal. 2-1 game.

It takes only 20 seconds for the Pens to tie the game. It’s (check notes) the fourth line? Chipping in a goal? Wonders never cease. Drew O’Connor centers the puck for Ryan Poheling, his shot is stopped by Lyon but the rebound is left for Danton Heinen to score his first goal since all the way back on October 22nd.

Pittsburgh gets another goal. Brian Dumoulin finds the stick of Kris Letang down in the zone and Letang’s slow deflection somehow eludes Lyon. Oof. 3-2 Pens.

Perhaps inspired by Lyon’s generosity, DeSmith gives it right back. He comes out of his crease in an attempt to beat Carter Verhaeghe to the puck, fails and this game is going into intermission at 3-3.

Shots are 17-14 Florida. Six total goals are scored. A maddening game for coaches and surprised starting goalies alike.

Second period

The Penguins get their first power play of the game early on but barely hold the puck in the Florida zone.

Not long after, Pittsburgh gets a second power play and disaster strikes. It’s just as disjointed and defender Aaron Ekblad has no qualms about jumping up in the play. Reinhart hits him with a pass and Ekblad blows a shot by DeSmith to give the Panthers another lead at 4-3 this time.

Next up is Jason Zucker going to the penalty box for a high sticking infraction, but the Penguins survive it.

The parade of penalties continues when Tkachuk leaps into Bryan Rust and trips him. Sidney Crosby fires up and gets to a loose puck and is in alone. He goes vintage Sid with a nasty backhander shot to tie the game 4-4.

Shots in the second are 15-12 Pens and knotted 29 a piece. As is the score.

Third period

It’s not going well for DeSmith, a shot hand cuffs him and the Pens never recover in front of him with that rebound worked around by the Panthers. Colin White eventually curls to the middle and DeSmith is slow on the poke (understandable after the first period whiff, I guess) and it’s a deke and finish for White to get FLA back in front 5-4 with 15:50 remaining in regulation.

The Pens are down, but not out in this game especially. The second line puts on a huge blitz with a scramble in front of the net but doesn’t score. Then some sloppy play by the Panthers gives Pittsburgh new life. O’Connor gets a wide open look at the net and somehow doesn’t score, but ends up behind the goalie and finds it again and finishes. 5-5.

Pittsburgh gets a late power play when Brock McGinn is tripped down and the power play comes through. Evgeni Malkin hammers one home from the right side. 6-5 Pens.

If you thought the Pens were out of the woods, they were not out of the woods. Ricky Raks has the puck roll off his stick in the d-zone, it looked like he thought a defender would be behind him but that guy already peeled up the ice. It turns out to be a second total gift for Carter Verhaeghe who adds a second goal in this game in an easy manner. 6-6 game.


The Pens tweak some strategy and put their best faceoff centeraman in Jeff Carter to take the all-important opening faceoff. He loses it anyways but at least quickly is able to get to the bench and change.

Lyon makes the first saves seemingly all night (not really) but robs Letang and then Guentzel from the right side of the net.

Pittsburgh earns another power play off a high-stick, they take a timeout to rest the stars. On the power play, Crosby goes right to the front of the net. Malkin and Letang play the puck and Letang fires. It’s in the net. Game.

Some thoughts

  • Goalie drama, can’t live with it, can’t live without it. (I could actually care to live without it for a while). Jarry took the practice this morning and Sullivan wouldn’t have named him the starter at noon if they didn’t think that would be the case, so who knows what the hell happened. It could just be me, but I swear I remember towards the end of the Devils game Jarry seeming to get up a little slow and even favoring the right leg that he injured in the Winter Classic. I guess maybe we’ll find out eventually, and hey, at least the All-Star break is coming. But it’s always something, isn’t it?
  • But, luckily it was some wild times in net for Florida as well. With starter Sergei Bobrovsky unavailable, they might have had no choice but to turn to the incredibly replacement level Alex Lyon for a second straight night, after he got torched last night. Predictably, results were disastrous.
  • Sullivan’s most aggravating coaching decision and usage to me is Dumoulin-Ruhwedel as the primary PK defense pair. Haven’t even looked into the stats or if it’s true (doesn’t need to be aggravate) but just watch how often they’re on the ice these days for goals against. Mix in a little Jeff Carter and if they don’t immediately win a faceoff and clear the puck, disaster is almost guaranteed in scoring chances and a potential goal against.
  • An interesting Sullivan coaching wrinkle was the effort to match Pettersson-Petry against the Florida top line led by Barkov. (It was very evident they wanted to do this base on the players selected to start the periods). Previously that assignment would have always been in the Dumoulin-Letang domain. It makes sense in Letang’s first game back and on account of Brian Dumoulin, well, not being very good anymore to use the defense as if they were 1A and 1B. But it’s not Dumo-Letang that is the #1 type anymore. (Or at least not tonight).
  • Random observation: take Chris Kunitz, evolve him with more size and skill and that might be Matthew Tkachuk. What a player he is. Since the start of 2021-22, only the Edmonton boys (McDavid and Draisaitl) have scored more points.
  • The NHL is getting weird these days. In the past, a team goes down 2-0 early, you might get distracted or even make plans to move on and do something else. But now, it hardly phases me to see the Penguins comeback from being down 2-0 or 3-0 early (or also to quickly squander an advantage when up 2-0 or 3-0). Multi-goal leads just don’t mean as much as they did not too long ago, not really even that big of a deal to fall behind.
  • If I were coaching against the Penguins, I would try to work in my top skilled players to kill penalties. And I don’t like the general philosophy of those guys standing in shooting lanes, but there’s big possibilities available. Even better for Florida with players like Barkov, Reinhart and Tkachuk that can do it anyways.
  • How about that fourth line generating two goals! Heinen was on the ice on a split shift and picked up an assist for a three-point game. He had three total points in his previous 22 games for cryin’ out loud. When it rains it pours, and it was going for them.
  • And while the return of Ryan Poehling might be seen as the obvious catalyst for the new-found production from that line, I’d really point to what Drew O’Connor did tonight. He was the key player on the sequences both goals that they generated.
  • Then again, the Pens’ PP is like your dog when you come back and he’s chewed up your shoes. You don’t even know why you have this creature, until you fall in a well and he brings help. That’s kinda what this game was like for them to score three PPGs after giving up a shortie. That’s a weird analogy, but this was a weird game so just go with it.
  • And this one starts and stops with who else but Kristopher Joseph Pierre Irwin Letang. In his return from injury and also after losing his father, what else would Letang do but play 26:29, fire six shots on net, score two goals, add two assists, throw four hits, block two shots and shake every teammate’s hand leaving the ice after ending the game in OT. Can’t draw that up, another classic type of Hollywood moment with that kind of emotionally-charged performance that