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Penguins/Wild Recap: The power play is good again...Pens win

Pittsburgh scores twice on the power play, kills off all Minnesota’s advantages and wins 4-3

Minnesota Wild v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Pregame

Changes aplenty from last game - Rickard Rakell, Noel Acciari and Chad Ruhwedel are all back from the injury, the defense pairs shuffle up and Tristan Jarry gets a night off.

First period

Very slow start for both sides, the Penguins are cautious in the aftermath of their disaster on Saturday night and aren’t taking a lot of chances.

A routine play escalates quickly and Pittsburgh gets on the board. Valtteri Puustinen does great work on the forecheck, and yeah, also catches a friendly bit of fortune when his stick contacts the puck perfectly out for Reilly Smith in front. Smith shows nice hands to go backhand and lifts a great shot into the top of the net to make it 1-0.

Pittsburgh gets the game’s first power play and it doesn’t score in the first, but it looks pretty good. Some energy, movement and pucks to the net. The type of stuff you can build on.

Second period

And build on it they do. Erik Karlsson booms a hard, low shot on net that is deflectable, and Jake Guentzel deflects it slickly to the top corner. 2-0 in the early going of the second.

Marcus Pettersson sends the puck ahead for Puustinen on a 2-on-1 and if Puustinen’s first assist of the night earlier was the beneficiary of good fortune, there was nothing but skill on his second assist here. A feigned shot kept Filip Gustavsson honest, and the cross-ice pass made for a simple tap-in for Evgeni Malkin who won’t miss a wide open cage from there. 3-0.

The Wild get two power plays but can’t score on either.

But Minnesota gets on the board before the end of the period. Brock Faber centers a puck from the outside that clicks off John Ludvig and right to Ryan Hartman. Hartman snaps a shot off Alex Nedeljkovic and in. 3-1.

The Wild tighten the game up, they outnumber the Pens in the corner, get the puck out and Matt Boldy gets the puck over to defender Jacob Middleton who snuck all the way down from his defensive position into a scoring area and buried it. 3-2.

Evgeni Malkin and Alex Goligoski get tangled up behind the play and both get matching minors for some reason. The refs hold that standard up by whistling Joel Eriksson Ek for holding Kris Letang to give the Pens an extended 4v3. They can’t score before the end of the period.

Third period

Minnesota escapes the shorthanded situation, but not before a good Crosby shot and Jake Guentzel hitting the post squarely.

Minnesota ties the game, they outnumber the Pens in front of Nedeljkovic and Vinni Lettieri ends up unmarked and able to tip a Jon Merrill shot in. 3-3 game.

The Wild open the door back up and the Pens walk through it. Kirill Kaprizov high sticks Kris Letang, and the Pittsburgh’s PP makes Minnesota pay. The goal is a bit of a broken play and some good luck when a puck bounces of a Wild player’s stick and skate and lands right at Crosby’s feet up front. He slides it in and the Pens are back up 4-3.

Radim Zohorna gets a double minor for a high stick but Hartman gets two somehow in the sequence. The Pens kill it off.

Pittsburgh’s top line gets some zone time and Connor Dewar has to tackle Guentzel into the net. Can’t do that and the Pens’ power play gets another crack at it with 7:38 to go. No goal but two minutes tick away.

Minnesota pulls Gustavsson, Nedeljkovic shoots for the empty net but misses. And that doe it.

Some thoughts

  • Puustinen is doing what Kyle Dubas asked for when the GM talked last week about a young player stepping up and making the most of the opportunity to play NHL games. As part of the sequence to get Rakell back onto the roster, Bryan Rust had to be placed on LTIR. Rust will be out until at least January 2nd as a result. That means the Pens will need a scoring line RW for another two weeks (or more). Everything always has to be constantly earned n the NHL but it’s easy to see Puustinen making his case to stay where he is with games like this.
  • The crowd was the star of the show chanting “we want Fleury” after every goal the Pens scored. Completely impractical since Minnesota plays tomorrow night and needed to preserve Fleury for the next game, but fun nonetheless to give a carnival atmosphere to the proceedings.
  • Fleury, naturally, took all the oxygen of his return, but tonight could have also been the last NHL game in Pittsburgh for another long-ago Pittsburgh draftee in Alex Goligoski. Drafted in the second round in 2004 (the Evgeni Malkin draft), Goligoski has had a wonderful career and tons of staying power. Thought he was visible and had a good game too, so if this is it, see ya down the road, Goose.
  • Without even looking at Moneypuck (where he had the best expected goals% of the night), I had already thought it was the best game of the year for Ruhwedel in his return. He played a shade under 10 minutes and didn’t have to do a lot, but the injury reset seemed to do him well. The third pair needs a steady hand, and no one has proven to be steadier than good ol’ Chad in that role, hopefully is the sign of things to come.
  • As far as the other returns, Acciari was a good add with his physicality and honest game. Rakell? Well, he’s back. Not the smoothest or most impactful of games, but he’ll have to keep working to get back to that level he is accustomed to, which isn’t the biggest sin after a long layoff.
  • Pittsburgh’s power play went 2 for 5 and has such a different energy and vibe to it now. Just a few days ago it was hopeless, confidence was in the tank and all was lost. Now, passes are snapping around. Pucks and bodies are getting to the net and it is dangerous like it wasn’t before.
  • With that power play success, you look at the box score and see Crosby, Guentzel and Malkin all with a 1+1 in the goal and assist columns. That’s usually going to be the recipe for a positive result.
  • As much as special teams (which in this case means entirely the power play) was costing the Pens games earlier, it’s swung back now. The PK was perfect at 4/4. The power play scored twice. Even more importantly, situationally in the third period at a 3-3 game, each team got a power play. The team that scored and killed it won. The team that gave up a goal and didn’t score in their chance lost.

The Pens will get a few days off, and up next comes a big chance to put together something against a Carolina team that they’ve struggled mightily against in recent years. If ever there was a time to break out of the “one step forward, one step back” trend, Thursday will be a great opportunity to do so.