The Penguins are trotting out what has been working lately with their familiar looking recent lineup.
Lined up and ready for hockey pic.twitter.com/MxEyrR2zRv— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 30, 2023
Things are tight early, as usual these days the teams are more in a “feeling out” type of mode early than really hitting the ground running with not too many shots or chances flying around.
It’s the host Penguins who break the ice and get on the board deep into the first period. Reilly Smith works the puck up the ice for a late-breaking little odd man rush for Evgeni Malkin and Drew O’Connor. Malkin centers for O’Connor, who whips a nice shot for his fourth goal of the season.
The feed from Geno— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 31, 2023
The one-timer finish from DOC pic.twitter.com/zH3zlyUjeQ
Late in the first period, Valtteri Puustinen appears to score his second goal in as many games with a cracker of a shot to the top shelf from the left wing, but the refs immediately waive the goal off. Turns out Puustinen is going to the penalty box instead, his stick got up and clipped the Blues player as he was winning the puck back. What could have been 2-0 instead shifts to an STL power play.
The Blues cash in on the carryover from the Puustinen power play with a goal 1:06 into the second period. Jordan Kyrou sets up Robert Thomas in the left circle and the game is tied.
It’s not tied for long, and the Penguins return the favor on St. Louis with a power play goal of their own. Malkin posts up in front of the net and Jake Guentzel banks a shot/pass in off the skate of Malkin and into the net. The not-pretty but still very pretty type of goal the power play has been lacking.
The Pens do enough to remain in front of STL for the second period in a row, but still have 20 minutes to bring it home.
Pittsburgh pushes their lead to two goals in the game when they get a contribution from none other than Jeff Carter. Jansen Harkins picks up his first point as a Penguin in his 19th game when he intercepts a clearing attempt and centers the puck for Carter to tip into the net from in front. 3-1 game
BIG JEFF WITH A BIG TALLY pic.twitter.com/cr4jddZ5kP— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 31, 2023
Radim Zohorna goes to the penalty box and the Blues score just after that penalty expires. It’s Kasperi Kapanen scoring just his fourth goal of the season by tipping a Scott Perunovich point shot into the net to draw the game within striking distance at 3-2, with a decent amount of time to go (9:29).
From there, the game looks like STL versus the dwindling clock. The Blues were racing to score, but they couldn’t beat Tristan Jarry and his posts to find their tying goal.
Kyrou almost scores after dekeing to his forehand, but hits the post with a yawning open net in front of him. The Blues hit the another post cleanly a few minutes later.
Goaltender Joel Hofer is pulled with 1:45 left and that turns out to backfire almost immediately. Sidney Crosby chases down an indirect pass from Guentzel and shoots into the open net for his 20th goal of the season and an insurance goal to extend the lead to 4-2.
STL takes their timeout with 58 seconds to go, the Pens miss a few looks at the open net but time runs out to secure another victory.
- Kapanen AND Carter score in the third period? Somewhere Ron Hextall must be smiling.
- Carter only has four goals in 28 games this season, but three of them have stood as game winners. Considering that he also has a two-goal game this year, another perspective is that Carter has scored goals in three different games this season, and he has the GWG in all three of those games. Pretty crazy frequency there, he doesn’t score many but the ones he’s able to put in the net have been meaningful. (All three games have been in the last month too, which is another good sign.)
- And in players who don’t score that much, Harkins finally got his first point with the Pens this season. (The shootout-winning goal sadly doesn’t officially count). The injuries to a handful of forwards, including the lengthy one to Matt Nieto has opened up the door for Harkins to become a long-term replacement player for the Pens. A couple of months ago when Harkins went back on waivers it looked like his stint in the organization might be brief, or at least his NHL impact. Turns out that hasn’t really been the case, the guy has found a way to survive and use his speed to get a chance to play.
- Justin Faulk got hurt last night so St. Louis had to call-up a 23-year old rookie name Matt Kessel to play in his second career NHL game. No relation to Phil but felt nice to hear and see the name Kessel out there again.
- Malkin was really good in this one, showing some signs of waking up from his prior quiet month or so. The setup pass for O’Connor’s first goal of the game was a thing of beauty, saucering it over a sliding Blues’ defender. Then Malkin answered the prayers/pleas/cries of everyone who has seen a Penguin power play this year to get to the front of the net and score a goal from in tight. Great night for Malkin, he was talking about getting to 500 goals when he recently passed Sergei Fedorov and that milestone might be adding some extra motivation. Tonight was No. 485.
- Crosby’s goal got him up to the 20-goal plateau for the 16th time in his career and was point No. 1,538 all-time for the captain. One more point ties Joe Thornton.
- The Blues did well to hang tight in this game. For a while in the third it looked as if their pressure might pay off to tie the game. Jarry was under heavy pressure and is living right these days with the posts doing their parts too.
Don’t look now but Pittsburgh is up to a nice little 6-1-1 stretch in the last eight games, a badly needed upturn to close out 2023. But they still have one more game to go tomorrow night against the Islanders — who undoubtedly will be hungry and looking to avenge their embarrassing 7-0 just a few days ago at the hands of the Pens.