Same lineup but new goalie for the Penguins, who give it a go with Tristan Jarry, continuing with last game’s somewhat quiet switch of the top-two left side defenders.
Quiet first period, Pittsburgh survives two early Nashville power plays and then repays the favor with an ineffective power play of their own later on.
Juuse Saros picks up where he left off last game, which is bad news for the Pens being as Saros made 35 saves against Boston.
Chad Ruhwedel planted a 6’4, 211 pound Egor Afanasyev, so that’s cool.
The Rudy train is coming through pic.twitter.com/kD5AIUxN7K— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 30, 2023
Shots are 16-12 PIT.
Brian Dumoulin gets called for a weak interference penalty only 16 seconds in, the Pens kill it off. Soon after, Mark Friedman buys Pittsburgh a make-up call when he feels a stick on him and grabs it while making sure the refs see it. Sidney Crosby gets a few cracks at the front of the net, but Saros stands tall.
Cracks on the Penguins not-so-vaunted defense begin to show. Nashville gets a 3-on-1 but Jarry stops the long shot. Then Kiefer Sherwood gets inside of P.O. Joseph for a mini-breakaway but Jarry is able to stop the puck and hold it.
Pittsburgh is able to respond however and get on the scoreboard first. Evgeni Malkin passes it to Brian Dumoulin and no one is tracking with him, so he takes the open space and moves up in the offensive zone. Kevin Gravel takes himself out of the play by laying out to block the pass (finally it strikes the opposition!) and Dumoulin combats that by holding the puck, making one more stick-handle around Gravel to make that pass anyways. It’s to Jason Zucker who is posted right at the front of the net. It’s an easy finish for Zucker to lift the puck up and over Saros and the Pens are on the board. 1-0.
This is a Jason Zucker appreciation post— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 31, 2023
And how about that patience from Brian Dumoulin?! pic.twitter.com/wrn3ghHa1z
Zucker’s feeling it, the same shift he generates a chance for himself out of no where that might have brought the house down had he been able to finish it on the backhand here.
Who the heck is Jason Zucker feeling like tonight? pic.twitter.com/owxQwO7LjU— Danny Shirey (@DannyShireyPGH) March 31, 2023
Shots in the second are 15-5 PIT.
The Preds put a little heat on in search of an equalizer. Jarry stops Philip Tomasino on a breakaway and a long slapshot almost turns into a rebound chance. Nashville is hanging around a bit, but take a self-inflicted penalty when Cal Foote got too aggro and punched Danton Heinen hard enough to knock him over.
From there, Pittsburgh quickly took advantage of the opportunity. Rickard Rakell circled to the left side of the ice, spied Jake Guentzel posted up in front and fired a shot/pass over that was easy for the unmarked Guentzel to let it bounce into the net off of him. 2-0 Pens get a small cushion with 6:57 to play.
Fun fact: Jake Guentzel has ten goals (10G-3A) over his last 13 games, and since March 7, his goal total is just one behind the league-lead. pic.twitter.com/X2YPZjUeTM— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 31, 2023
Pittsburgh gets awarded another power play, and like Bill Cowher nursing a lead in the second half back in the ‘90s, the Pens stall and play keepaway to drain even more time off the clock before the Predators can get a whistle. The Pens don’t get much on their power play, but they also used two defenders and were playing cautiously and wisely to get on out of Dodge as quickly as they could.
Nashville goes from 4v5 to 6v5 quickly when they get their player from the penalty box back, then lift Saros for an extra attacked. Unfortunately for them, time is not working in their favor and the clock reaches 0:00 without further goal scoring.
- What ever happened to that glorious 3-4 game stint a while back where the Pens were doing that cool thing where either Crosby or Malkin would get in a shooting position in the right corner and someone would feed them and they would snap shots on goal? It was effective and then just completely evaporated. (Getting Guentzel to the front of the net was a nice enough consolation in the third period).
- It’s a tale of two stars right now, Crosby was fighting behind the play with no name Preds like Jeremy Lauzon and Michael McCarron. Per the Bob Grove stat of the night, Sid is mired in a new career-long seven straight games without an assist. Some of that frustration is showing through.
- Meanwhile, Malkin is on a 10-game home-scoring streak and playing very fine hockey. His energy and skating has remained at a very high level despite how deep into the season it is. Malkin looks fresh and dangerous.
- Technically the Preds are still in the playoff hunt, but between selling at the deadline and having almost all their good skaters hurt (Josi, Forsberg, Duchene, Johansen) they just have no juice. Nashville miraculously beat Boston the other night, despite being thoroughly out-shot they had Saros to hold them in there. Saros did as much as he could in this game too, but he can only carry them so far with an inexperienced and not so talented group in front.
- Jarry was good when he had to be, similar to his last game last week against Colorado. He stopped all 28 shots he saw and you can’t ask for much more than that. Well, besides showing up for work the next time the team is on the ice and not dealing with any new or existing injuries. We’ll see..
- Fitting that Zucker and Guentzel were the goal-scorers, those two are the main sources of offense these days in Pittsburgh. They’re going to need some help eventually, but on a night like this the Pens simply needed anyone to make a play and put the puck in the net. Can hardly be a surprise which two answered the call.
- For the 800th game in a row (approximate and estimated), the Pens piled up a ton of shots and expected goals but barely dented the goalie. Moneypuck’s xGF was 5.97 - 1.58 tonight. Maybe it’s just me getting numb to the reality, but this one didn’t even feel that frustrating. Could be because Saros is legitimately one of the most skilled goalies in the NHL and having a great season, gotta tip your cap and understand it’s tough to beat him. Could be since the Pens never really felt threatened or gave up a goal themselves, but it was just a “huh” moment upon seeing that — far from the recent games against Dallas, NYR and especially Ottawa where things were so much more frustrating...That said, it could be just growing numb and getting used to lots of chances and little amount of goals out of this group of players where only a very select handful can actually put the puck in the net.
- Very necessary win tonight for the Pens, being as their chief competition for the playoffs, the Florida Panthers, also took home a victory tonight. If Pittsburgh didn’t hold serve, they would have been in trouble - but as it stands the Penguins remain one point up on the Panthers (and Pittsburgh also has one game in hand). And most importantly, the season is one game closer to being over.
Back to the win column, but look out, here comes Boston on Saturday. Very tough challenge for the Pens of what very possibly could be a first round preview.