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Pens/Coyotes Recap: Penguins snap power play drought, losing streak

Jake Guentzel and Jeff Carter (!!) each score two goals, and the Pens break a long losing streak and an even longer power play drought in a win over Arzona

Arizona Coyotes v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Pregame

The Penguins get P.O Joseph back from the injured list for only his second game since October 18th.

The visiting Coyotes bring Jason Zucker for his first taste of Pittsburgh as an ex-Penguin, and local rookie sensation Logan Cooley gets to play an NHL game in his hometown for the first time.

First period

Arizona takes a penalty 48 seconds into the game (the first of many the whistle-happy crew would enforce early on) and lo and behold it’s a Christmas season miracle. For the first time in 38 tries, the Penguins score a power play goal! Valtteri Puustinen is active in the bumper and along the wall and gets the puck down low to Crosby. The captain sees the defender’s stick angling to protect the net and losing Jake Guentzel behind him, so Sid feeds Jake, Guentzel quickly finishes it short-side past Connor Ingram and the long drought is over. And more importantly a dream start of a 1-0 lead just 1:12 into the game for the Pens.

Erik Karlsson is next in the penalty parade and the Coyotes return the favor with a power play goal of their own. Lawson Crouse takes a cross-ice pass and shovels it by Tristan Jarry. 1-1.

As part of the seven minors called in the opening period, Pittsburgh gets a long 4v3 situation. Unfortunately Crosby is in the box and unavailable and the group doesn’t score.

Arizona jumps out to the lead, again on the power play. The Pens’ defensive structure breaks down and Matias Maccelli’s second effort on a rebound is enough to finally score a goal that built up quickly. 2-1 game.

After that goal, the Coyotes get ANOTHER power play, but this time they’re not the ones that score. Clayton Keller skates himself into trouble for some reason and Drew O’Connor does well to win the puck and spring Jeff Carter on a clean breakaway. To the surprise of many (including Carter himself based on his face afterwards), he dekes to the backhand and shows a glimmer of what made him a 400+ goal scorer in the league with a clinical finish. 2-2 game.

Pittsburgh is up 14-7 on shots and played well in between all the penalties, yet find themselves only tied after one.

Second period

The refs settle things down and only call one penalty in the middle frame, a clear-cut boarding by Carter. The Pens’ PK settles down too and kills it off.

Cooley was dancing around a little and got drilled in open ice by Reilly Smith. Welcome to the show, kid.

Shots are 18-10 Pens in the second, great showing but they couldn’t crack Ingram in the second period.

Third period

Pittsburgh finds that goal that felt like it was coming from an unlikely source and again on the power play. Kris Letang’s point shot is deflected at point blank range by Carter in front of the net and the Pens get their lead back. 3-2 but still 15:37 to go.

Michael Kesselring took two penalties tonight and had this happen to him, he’s probably had better days.

Arizona pulls the goalie with about two minutes left. Guentzel sells out with effort to beat out an icing call, after Evgeni Malkin can’t poke the puck into the empty net, Guentzel dives and jams in his second of the night to seal the deal.

The clock runs out and that’s it. The Pens earn a W and put some long bad streaks to an end.

Some thoughts

  • After looking beyond feeble for a month, the power play hit the back of the net twice. Puustinen fit in well, being active, playing the puck, looking to create triangles on the ice that are short area 2-on-1’s. Thing of beauty to finally see again. The Carter goal was simple, yet effective.
  • After months and years of declining play, it is very cool to see Carter find a way to be the difference maker that he was for so long in his career. By all accounts he has handled demotions in role and healthy scratches in the best way possible, and clearly hasn’t quit giving his best effort. Tonight’s two goal output (and two massively important goals, at that) was a nice and fitting reward for him.
  • This was the first 40+ shot game for the Pens since Nov. 14th against Columbus (Pittsburgh’s only 40+ SOG game of that month after putting up three in October). It’s been a while since they’ve had the shooting gallery going and controlling play enough to throw a lot of rubber on net. Though it was padded by some looks at the empty net, the Pens put up almost 7 expected goals in this game according to Moneypuck. Racking up that many looks on net is always a terrific sign for this team and the actual goals are sure to follow.
  • On the flip-side, Jarry only saw 22 shots, but faced over 3 expected goals cobbled together by the Coyotes. Wouldn’t call it a simple or easy night for him, but it was fairly quiet and drama-free (in a good way). Nice sign that the goaltender is in a groove where he doesn’t see a lot of work but still factors in as a key in the win.
  • The Carter SHG saved the penalty kill from having a fairly rotten night. It would have been some star-crossed luck for when the power play finally wakes up and scores twice that the PK (which has been a consistent, steady, good group this year) allows two goals right back. Luckily for them, the shortie tips the balance back into the positive on the special teams battle.
  • And it was definitely a special teams type of night with all the penalties being dolled out. Pittsburgh ranks among the lowest in power play opportunities for and against this season, unusual to see the refs set (and stick to) a low bar of what they were calling. On the plus side, it was consistent officiating for both teams, but on the watchability scale it was becoming a bit too much of a ref show early on.
  • That said, when penalties are flying around so fast, a team can’t be dormant on the power play and expect to win. This is the exact type of game that Pittsburgh has lost no less than 5-6 times this year because their power play wasn’t producing. Tonight it did, and they won. This can’t be a one-off, it has to happen regularly in the future if this team wants to get their season back on track.
  • When Jonathan Gruden and Jansen Harkins are on the ice together it sometimes doesn’t look like they know where they’re going or are going to end up, but they’re getting there as fast as possible. Nice to have little wrinkles of speed in a lineup that could use the energy.
  • Gruden was on the ice for an important d-zone draw while the game was 3-2 late in the third. Interesting little show of faith from the coaches in having him out there as a backup center if need be.

The Pens will have surely take some confidence in this game to break the ice on their power play, greatly out-shoot an opponent and take a win away. In that vein, it might be a good thing they’re right back at it tomorrow night against Montreal to try and keep the momentum building.