The All-Star break and bye week is over, and the Penguins welcome back a pair of forwards with Kasperi Kapanen and Josh Archibald getting off the injured reserve and back into the lineup. Tristan Jarry remains out, however, so the net belongs to Casey DeSmith yet again.
Lined up and ready for hockey pic.twitter.com/hGoWJQvGoE— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 7, 2023
The visiting Colorado Avalanche get some boosts too for their first game back, in the form of Valeri Nichushkin and Bowen Byram back on the ice.
After the opening puck drop there was only four stoppages in play in the first nine minutes of the game. The Penguins managed a grand total of zero shots, with very little control of the puck in the Colorado zone. That wasn’t the case for the Avalanche, who lived in the Pittsburgh zone and got the first seven shots on goal. Casey DeSmith was good early, and a little lucky too when one of Nathan MacKinnon’s efforts buzzed the post.
Slow first for the Pens, they finally catch a break with their first line trapping Colorado’s fourth line, but Kris Letang’s shot attempt goes just wide of the net. Then late in the first, Sidney Crosby sets up Jake Guentzel for a shot with 10 seconds left but Pavel Francouz makes the stop.
No penalties, no goals in a brisk return. Those Colorado boys can really fly. Shots are 13-6 in favor of the Avs and the Penguins are fortunate that there hasn’t been any score.
The Avs’ pressure continues but the Penguins somehow managed to hold on. Pittsburgh draws the game’s first power play about halfway through the period and regulation. Guentzel misses the net, then takes a penalty of his own to send the game to a 4v4.
The open space is good for MacKinnon. His ninth (!!) shot attempt finally yields a goal. MacKinnon darts around the net and the whole Penguin team and fires the puck in the net. 1-0 Colorado.
Crosby trips a player while he’s down to give Colorado a second power play. Luckily the Pens kill it off.
Shots through two are 29-16 COL. Pittsburgh is just incrementally chasing and a step slow and behind in all aspects, including an xGF look from Moneypuck. And yet, credit to DeSmith, it’s only a one shot game after 40 minutes.
Jeff Carter put a shoulder into Cale Makar, temporarily knocking the defender from the game and then Carter from in front redirected a pass on goal. Not much, but it stood out in this game.
DeSmith made a beautiful save after Erik Johnson of all players delivered a spinning backhand pass across the ice for J.T. Compher. Compher got a good shot away, but DeSmith read it the whole way and did well to stay in front of it.
Bryan Rust is off for a hooking call to give Colorado a third power play. MacKinnon almost creates magic but luckily can’t finish it.
The Pens look as good as they ever do as the game goes on, the Evgeni Malkin line finally gets some traction in the offensive zone as the team desperately tries to beat Francouz (and the dwindling clock).
And it’s the second line that comes through. Jason Zucker makes a power move to the net. Francouz dives at the puck but can’t get it by Zucker, whose fling went wide. But Malkin recovered it from behind the net and flipped it back into the chaos. It clicks off Rust, then the goalie and into the net. 1-1 game with 3:38 to go.
Pittsburgh led in shots 18-10 in the third, finally turning it on as maybe Colorado went into protect mode a little too early.
Crosby takes off on a 2-on-1, he centers for Kris Letang. Letang’s shot goes almost in, but Francouz is able to snatch it with his blocker and pull the puck back before it fully crosses over the red goal line. After a video review, the teams play on.
Malkin takes a penalty in front of the net in the offensive zone to give Colorado a 4v3 power play with 3:39 left in OT. They spend their timeout to prep for it. DeSmith stands on his head though, robbing Mikko Rantanen and MacKinnon to keep the game alive.
Once Malkin gets out of the box, the three-headed monster secures the victory for Pittsburgh. Crosby get taken down in front and a penalty was coming on Colorado, but the Pens took care of business. Sid setup Letang who went upstairs for another OT goal.
- The nine day rest did Colorado well. They were fast. The defending champs have quite the team and their best hockey of the season is no doubt in front of them. Their pressure off the puck through backchecking, layers of defense, pure speed was incredible. And it wasn’t very often in between segments when they were without it.
- MacKinnon was the best player on the ice with a remarkable 19 shot attempts in the game. He owned the puck all night long, the only remarkable part was that he only had one point, it could have easily been up to a few more with the way he was whizzing around out there and peppering DeSmith with shots.
- DeSmith deserves a written nod for a very strong performance. He was shaky in the period prior to Jarry’s injury before the break. He was under siege in this game but did all to be expected (and probably more) to keep it close on the scoreboard for longer than it deserved to be. That was all the Pens needed. But that overtime was the stuff of heroics for DeSmith, who tracked the puck well and played some of his best hockey of the year tonight.
- Rickard Rakell back on the top line was a good move too. That was the only line keeping their heads above water when times were tough.
- A lot was made online of Jeff Carter (when is it not) and his role and look on the goal against. While it wasn’t a positive for his passive play as MacKinnon darted freely, there was also traffic and a guy bumping Carter to keep him from the middle. Not great, but not worth dragging him over the coals on that play any more or less than Marcus Pettersson or Jeff Petry who might as well have waived MacKinnon around the net like a third base coach sending the runner home.
- That said, Carter did only play three shifts in the second period. He’s not in a right place in an NHL game right now but especially not in a game where Colorado was skating and flying around out there.
- Will the NHL have anything to say about Carter’s hit? We’ll have to see, clipping a star like Makar will draw attention, but that the defender returned to the game might mean it was of minor enough significance to fade away without future action.
- The Pens improve to 4-8 in games decided in OT. They’ve been playing a ton of them lately and need to keep finding ways to get the points in it. Mission accomplished tonight.
Thrilling win at home for Pittsburgh, who can take some positive vibes with them out West for the next week or so after pulling out a win in this game. In a way, the Avs sort of looked as the Pens have earlier in the year- a stronger team for most of the game, but one that didn’t pull away enough and it ended up costing them. For once, it was nice to see the Pens flip the script and be that opportunistic side that came to life late and snuck out with there with the victory.