The Penguins start the break with a new player after having signed Jesse Puljujarvi following a tryout in the AHL. Reilly Smith is also back after missing almost a month with an injury.
Welcome to the Penguins lineup, Jesse Puljujarvi! pic.twitter.com/oBrz5wbi1V— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 6, 2024
In a battle of two teams both coming back from a week’s layoff, the first goes by fairly quietly. No penalties and not too many great chances. Pittsburgh looks the sharper of the two teams and opens the scoring.
Kris Letang steps up into the play to walk into an errant Winnipeg outlet pass and made the most of it. Letang pulled in big sweeping backhander that tricked Connor Hellebuyck and popped into the net 7:16 into the game.
Back from break and scoring goals! pic.twitter.com/KAR6eJ9kTD— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 7, 2024
That was it for the first period, with shots going 12-8 to the Pens and them scoring the only goal.
The quiet game came to a halt 4:15 into the second period. A couple of years after breaking Teddy Blueger’s jaw, Brendon Dillon dropped his arm into the face of Noel Acciari in a tremendous impact. Acciari was bloodied and knocked momentarily senseless in a heap, trying in vain to get back up and obviously woozy. Jansen Harkins attempted to go after Dillon but the refs took care of this one by issuing a match penalty.
Brenden Dillon receives a match penalty for an illegal check to the head pic.twitter.com/1dHLS0swzb— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) February 7, 2024
The five-minute power play didn’t start very pretty, but the Pens found a way to make the Jets pay on the scoreboard. Erik Karlsson’s point shot got deflected to the point of halting in front of the net by Lars Eller. That worked out well for Jeff Carter to use his reach and sweep the puck by the out-stretched leg of Hellebuyck to double the Pens’ lead at 2-0.
BIG JEFF CARTER WITH A BIG POWER-PLAY GOAL! pic.twitter.com/6OaYqi4GYF— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 7, 2024
Pittsburgh’s other power play group matched their counterparts with a goal of their own. Bryan Rust took a cross-crease pass from Jake Guentzel and buried it after Sidney Crosby somewhat fanned on a shot to send the play into a bit of controlled madness that ended up great for the Pens. 3-0.
Count it! That's two power-play goals tonight! pic.twitter.com/hBao69go26— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 7, 2024
Tristan Jarry takes offense to a Jet getting pushed into his kitchen late in the second and holds onto him a little too long. Winnipeg gets their first power play of the game but not much comes of it.
Overall, good period for the Pens (unless it was Acciari’s nose and head). Two goals earned from Dillon’s dangerous hit and Acciari’s pain have the Pens in the driver’s seat up 3-0 with 20 to go.
Winnipeg wakes up and starts making a push. Jarry is answering them every step of the way, until Josh Morrissey makes a really nice play to dis-possess the puck from Erik Karlsson and throw it down for Mark Scheifele to fire into the net.
But hold your horses, Jets, the Pens challenge for offsides, well before the goal scoring play and they’re right. Close call that goes Pittsburgh’s way and the score stays 3-0.
Ryan Graves trips up Scheifele to allow Winnipeg their second power play of the night. Pittsburgh kills it off.
Even at even strength, the Pens are getting hemmed in their zone a lot, failing or unable to get the puck out of their own end very often as Winnipeg pushes to get back in. Jarry is sharp and having none of it.
Jarry and the Pens get it across the line and time runs out. Successful night back for Pittsburgh.
- The key moment of the game was the hit by Dillon and the fallout it created. Needless to say, Acciari was out for the rest of the game, and Winnipeg was down to five defensemen for the last 35 minutes of the contest. Pittsburgh had a chance where their power play had to come through and take advantage, and for once it did.
- Having five straight minutes to work with is such a leg up to work things out on the fly. The Pens scored two goals, but somehow it still wasn’t very inspiring. Both goals were on somewhat broken plays and the results of getting the puck to the net and then seeing what could happen. Hey, it worked. Could use more of the results but the strategies of how and who was working the puck around was fairly disjointed and, again, uninspiring is the word to keep coming back to.
- But it is a results oriented business, and seeing a 1-0 lead morph into a 3-0 lead within a brief period of time and via the Penguin power play is so massive for the end result.
- Crazy enough, this was Rust’s first power play goal of the season and only second point with the power play. He had played just over 65 minutes there entering the season. Woof.
- It was an anticipated Penguin NHL debut for Puljujarvi and he was....just ok. OK can be good enough jumping back into the NHL action in mid-season and catching up. Letang’s goal was a result of Puljujarvi dumping the puck in earlier in the sequence (he did not get an assist for it) and had a nice looking shot. Nothing earth-shattering but not a poor start either. Final stat line of the night: 9:49 played (all at even strength), 2 SOG (1 more attempt blocked), 2 hits, +1
- The past few little ticky-tack “offsides by a hair when it didn’t have anything to do with the goal anyways” reviews have gone to bite the Penguins, but they got the better of this one to take a goal away from Winnipeg in the third. Still fairly meh on that overall frame-by-frame replay to get all the calls perfect, but the Jets didn’t deserve much good calls to their favor after the Dillon hit in the first place.
- In Game No. 500 for Jake Guentzel, his mind and hands were on display on the instant touch pass over for Rust. It looks easy but beautiful in the slow mo replay, but it’s a great representation of Guentzel’s IQ and skill to instantly adjust to the Crosby’s muffed shot/pass and seamlessly turn what could have been a negative into a tap-in goal for a teammate.
- It was a long break, but most the Penguins looked better and stronger for it. There certainly was no drop or rust on Jarry. Another great goaltending performance on the season and a NHL leading sixth shutout.
Penguins hockey is back! The unofficial second half of the season is off to a good start for Pittsburgh, who get a few more days to prep for the Friday-Saturday road games that will see them rematch Winnipeg on the latter leg of that back-to-back.