Ryan Poehling remains unavailable for game action, so Drew O’Connor is back in the lineup. The Penguins are back to a traditional 12 forward + six defensemen lineup, which makes Mark Friedman the healthy scratch. Casey DeSmith is the man in net with Tristan Jarry injured.
Lined up and ready for late night hockey.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 6, 2023
Ryan Poehling is still out of the lineup due to an upper-body injury. pic.twitter.com/dh5pxjFTrs
The Vegas Golden Knights use some dumb emoji tweet for their lineup, but notably their newly named All-Star goalie Logan Thompson is given the night off, backup Adin Hill is in net and Jack Eichel returns from about a month in the injury bay.
Not a great start for the flightless birds, Chad Ruhwedel gets beaten for an icing whistle and on sort of a broken play where it looks like Paul Cotter fanned on a shot. But luckily for them, the puck slides perfectly over to a wide open Phil Kessel. The former Penguin strikes against his old team on the game’s first shot 1:53 into the contest to get Vegas on the board.
It doesn’t get much better early on, Jan Rutta can’t stop Nicolas Roy from springing the returning Eichel on a breakaway. Eichel catches DeSmith leaning to the glove side and snaps a hard shot the other way to the far-side, just inside the post. The game is only 5:17, and the hosts have a 2-0 lead.
(Return of Jack) hold on— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 6, 2023
(Return of Jack) don't you know
(You know that I'll be back) here I go pic.twitter.com/9Fm2NhNrrc
Jake Guentzel’s frustrations continue as a shift of his goes long and takes a slashing penalty while the Golden Knights apply pressure. It doesn’t take long for Vegas to strike. Mark Stone sets up Chandler Stephenson, it looks like DeSmith reads the play and is square to the shot but can’t get it. 3-0.
put some respect on Chandler Stephenson's name pic.twitter.com/fqKJKd7CTt— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 6, 2023
Shots in the first are 13-9 VGK. It did not feel that close.
The Penguins show some pride and play better in the first half of the second period, doubling up their shot totals, but fail to score. Kessel goes to the penalty box as the Pittsburgh pressure mounts. Evgeni Malkin cranks a slap shot, but he only hits the post on the closest the Pens have come to scoring all game to that moment.
Pittsburgh stays desperate, double-shifting their best lines after the power play ends to keep the intensity of their attacks up. The refs actually stop the play to review for a goal when the puck flutters off Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby drives to the net, but it wasn’t in.
After a period of dominance for Pittsburgh and Vegas barely showing a pulse, the Golden Knights make it 4-0 with 11 seconds left in the period. Brayden McNabb simply throws a puck in from distance, it deflects off Mark Stone in front and flutters into the net. Unbelievable.
Shots in the middle frame are 20-12 Pittsburgh, at one point it was 17-5. But try as they may, it just wasn’t going in for the Pens, and somehow Vegas actually extends their lead to 40-0. Or 4-0, but it might as well be 40.
On we go. Vegas turns the puck over to Crosby at the blueline, he passes over to Guentzel. Guentzel drops it for Ty Smith, who patiently waits then fires to the far side and in the net. Pens are on the board with 15:55 remaining, but down 4-1.
The Pens keep pushing, Bryan Rust gets a great shot from right in front but Hill stops him. Rust then gets clobbered with a high stick by Eichel and Pittsburgh has their second power play of the night. A rolling puck bounces right by Guentzel and no goal comes.
Soon after, Vegas provides insurance, not that it was particularly going to be needed. Kessel races up the left side of the ice on a 2-on-1 as we’ve seen so many times, he draws Marcus Pettersson in and then passes it across right by him. Paul Cotter is the recipient and scores to make the lead 5-1 with 7:54 remaining.
Pittsburgh gets a third power play when Guentzel is hooked. Not much comes of it.
Crosby keeps playing until the end, he dumps Ben Hutton on his backside to turn the puck over, sneaks around the net and gets a tap in goal on a pass from Rickard Rakell to make the final score look a little better at 5-2.
- Early in the first period, Vegas got the call on beating an icing, the puck is in the net seconds later...Not long after, the Penguins don’t get the call on a close play at the other end, and even though Drew O’Connor quickly popped the puck in the net, the play was dead. That pretty much sums up the fine line between the frustrating place the Pens are, and how close they could be. Not that the incidents should have derailed the game, but the irony of the two plays happening so closely drove the point home nonetheless.
- Just like in the second period, scoring chances were 14-5 Penguins in that frame per Natural Stat Trick. Actual score in the second, 1-0 Vegas. When it’s not going great sometimes it’s really not going great.
- Coincidentally or not, the Penguins broke their last slump after of blowing off some steam at their Halloween party (as Sidney Crosby reluctantly mentioned to TNT’s Paul Bisssonnette). I guess any hopes of being in Las Vegas for a few days to generate similar bonding or off-ice momentum didn’t come to pass based on tonight’s results.
- This is probably in the “rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic” file and not a complaint so much as an observation, but the decision to use Ruhwedel and sit Friedman stood out. Haven’t thought Ruhwedel has been at his best since coming off an injury. Neither here nor there in the difference for the result of a win or loss, but it seems like you can see Chad Ruhwedel play just about any old time and it’ll be quietly OK at best, replacement level at worst. Friedman might have that type of floor or lower, but also could offer a higher ceiling.
- One defender who did get plenty of time was Ty Smith. He led the team in ice time with 23:36 (power play time helped, but still a big game by any measure). He scored his first goal with the team, showing his offensive ability and shot. (Pens blueliner goals on the year in the lineup tonight: Rutta 3, Joseph 2, Dumoulin 0, Pettersson 0, Ruhwedel 0). Passes to the point are a big deal for the Pittsburgh forwards, but they don’t have a lot to work with. Smith gives them something there. Ideally even when reinforcements come back, Smith should be staying in the lineup, but we’ll see about that..
- Breakouts were pretty much non-existent from the defense. P.O. Joseph is very capable of moving the puck with his legs or by making a pass, Smith flashes there too, but the rest of the crew were not good. Everyone’s missing someone this time of year and Vegas has their defensive injuries too but the absence of Kris Letang and Jeff Petry were felt on a night like this.
- Another nitpick, 11:05 left in the third, 0:55 left on the power play, down 4-1. The big guns were tired after playing the first 1:05 of it, goalie freezes the puck for a PIT o-zone faceoff. No timeout comes, the stars change. The second PP has had their moments, and the game was still way out of reach- but what’s the benefit in keeping the timeout in your pocket all night? For messaging alone, it could have been a coaching move to extend that shift, and maybe get something out of it. Instead, it passed quietly. Everything’s easy to type up on the internet, but that’s one that stood out.
- Mired in a goal drought, Jake Guentzel said he wanted to simply and shoot the puck more and you can’t fault him for that tonight. Led the game with 11 total shot attempts (three on net, two that missed wide, six more blocked). A shooting mentality will serve him well, eventually.
But the answers were short for the Pens tonight, it got away from them early and they couldn’t find a way back in Las Vegas. The winless streak grows to six as the team moves on and tries to find their consistency over 60 minutes.