The Penguins are back from the break with a similar looking lineup as they have been lately, Drew O’Connor bump up a bit and Valtteri Puustinen is away from the second line for a minor change.
Here's a look at the Penguins line and defense combos for tonight ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/C5dBZPxVkZ— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2023
Pittsburgh gets the first two power plays of the contest but it’s back to the old and bad types of power plays where they struggle to even gain entries, let alone advance to getting any traction towards creating much offense.
The non-notable power plays mark the interesting part of this period too. Shots are 5-4 PIT, neither team finding their legs coming out of a short Christmas break that might as well have been a long one for as sluggish as the opening “action” was.
The Pens getting the first two power plays meant that, believe it or not that the Islanders would get an early opportunity to get one of their own. It’s O’Connor who gets the best scoring chances on it though.
The Pittsburgh first line comes through, a point shot leaks through Ilya Sorokin and Rickard Rakell is right there to find the puck and slam it home. There was a review because it appeared the refs blew the whistle early (and incorrectly since the puck was loose all the way) but after consulting it would stand.
RICKARD RAKELL— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2023
You know what they say: always play until the whistle. pic.twitter.com/GCW5MEoUDk
It turned into the Jake Guentzel show after that with two goals in 12 seconds. The first was scored in front of the net and with a lot of credit for Kris Letang to shoot well wide of the net for Guentzel’s stick on a deflectable play that left Sorokin with no chance. 2-0.
Jake Guentzel does what he does best, part 1. pic.twitter.com/9UadsdlvLE— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2023
The Isles take their timeout in an attempt to slow things down and take control. It doesn’t work. Letang makes a second brilliant play to send Guentzel all alone on a breakaway. Guentzel shoots from distance to beat Sorokin on the early shot. 3-0.
Jake Guentzel does what he does best, part 2. pic.twitter.com/tQtx3NUieX— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2023
NYI is stunned at this point and standing around in their defensive zone. The fickle partisans begin to boo. Reilly Smith and Evgeni Malkin are playing a two-man game passing back and forth to one another with seemingly everyone else standing around. Eventually Smith hits Malkin in the middle of the ice and the seas part. Malkin fires it by Sorokin. 4-0.
The beatings will continue until morale improves. So says Letang and Malkin. They team up for another goal with Malkin looping around the net and posting up in front and Letang basically scoring it off Malkin and into the net. 5-0.
With his second goal tonight, Evgeni Malkin now has the second-most goals among Russian-born skaters in NHL history with 484, passing Sergei Federov (483). pic.twitter.com/5zxLTmpSnb— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2023
Pittsburgh keeps pouring it on. Puustinen feeds Radim Zohorna and on a follow up attempt he shoves it in. What the hell is Sorokin still doing in this game, if only for his own sake to save him from having to deal with this nonsense. 6-0.
PUUSTY AND BIG Z GETTING IT DONE pic.twitter.com/CuYKIVO583— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2023
Well, that was certainly a contender for one of the Pens’ best periods of the season. Six goals total, and five of them came in a 6:57 stretch that completely removed all doubts about how this contest would end up.
Mercifully, Semyon Varlamov replaces Sorokin in the Islander net for the start of the last period.
Both teams gets a power play, neither score.
Letang’s been setting everyone else up all night, so why not Puustinen for his first career NHL goal? The rookie unleashes a beauty of a one-t from his off-wing to extend the score to 7-0, which doesn’t matter, but also puts his name in the history books, which very much does.
Both teams at this point about put it in neutral to get to the end of this one.
- Given the magnitude of this game (the Islanders came into the night seven points ahead of the Pens, with an extra game played), the start was sluggish. To be expected given that throwing off routines is the pro hockey player’s kryptonite. Pittsburgh’s response in the second period was tremendous, getting 12 of the first 13 shots, scoring the first six goals, killing a penalty and making it an open and shut case for the outcome of this game.
- Thought the Pens got really lucky on that first goal by Rakell. The ref definitely should not have blown the whistle, but he did, just a hair before Rakell scored. The whistle wouldn’t have affected anything, since no Islander could or would have prevented the goal at that point. But usually when the “intent to blow” or even if the whistle is wrong, if it happens, it happens. Pretty unusual to have that type of goal stand, but hey, it was the right ending.
- Surreal feeling for kids of the ‘90s or 2000’s to now realize that Evgeni Malkin has more goals than Sergei Fedorov. Malkin is already the top Russian-born NHL assist maestro, and now he’s up to second in goals. It’s been an amazing career and looking up to see something like that puts in perspective how prolific.
- In another “wow” moment: Letang put up five assists in the second period, and as the NHL mentioned that is THE most points in a single period for a defender in league history. Paul Coffey didn’t get five in a period, Bobby Orr never did, not any blueliner ever. Except for now Letang. Pretty wild.
- Six assists overall in a game by Letang ties Ron Stackhouse for the most points all-time by a Penguin blueliner. It also ties the most assists in a game for any Penguin player along with Lemieux (x4, naturally) and Greg Malone also reaching six helpers in a game, per the Sportsnet Pittsburgh broadcast.
- Letang’s night was so crazy he entered the contest tied-32nd in assists among NHL defensemen. He leaves it tied-10th.
- Marcus Pettersson had four points tonight, Sidney Crosby had none. Neither did Erik Karlsson. Go figure. Usually when a team scores so many goals in one game, almost everyone gets something. In that regard, this offensive explosion was very irregular when seeing that half of the 18 skaters in this game for Pittsburgh didn’t end up with any points at all. (Offset by six players having multi-point game and piling up all the numbers).
- Hey, a Tristan Jarry shutout. It wasn’t a focal point for this game much at all, but he did his job all night. All things considered, the team still owes him a few easy nights on backlog from earlier in the season when he was playing well to single-handedly keep them in games.
- Feels like Islanders games always come in bunches, and we’ll see these two teams play again in just a few days on Sunday (New Year’s Eve). Too bad that game couldn’t have started about 30 seconds after the conclusion of this one.
Pittsburgh up to 5-1-1 in their last seven games, the exact kind of stretch they need to pull above and beyond the .500 mark and trend towards where they want to be at. Defeating an important divisional opponent in regulation (and in humiliating fashion, no less) is the cherry on top of the sundae. Pens back at it on Saturday at home against St. Louis.