The Pittsburgh Penguins (22-11-4) may decide to travel on gameday and hold morning skates more often. The Penguins left Pittsburgh for Nashville at 9 a.m. on Friday morning. Five different Penguins scored goals including Dominik Simon who ended a 24-game scoreless streak, and 14 players scored points as the Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Friday.
Nashville starting goalie Pekka Rinne was still in a giving mood in his first game after the Christmas holiday. Just a couple of minutes into the game, maligned Penguins winger Simon (3) was gifted a soft goal. Simon streaked down the left wing but his soft wrister to the net dribbled through Rinne’s five-hole.
“Especially coming out of the break, that’s huge,” Bryan Rust said. “To jump on a team early and get that lead and build momentum…”
The Penguins had a few more gifts for Rinne, too. Later in the first period, also maligned Penguins winger Alex Galchenyuk broke his goalless streak, too. Galchenyuk planted himself in front of the net and deflected Marcus Pettersson’s shot. Rinne blocked the first deflection, but could not trap the rebound. Galchenyuk (3) poked it through Rinne’s five-hole (again).
Then 34 seconds after Galchenyuk scored, yet another seldom scorer put his name on the score sheet. After Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese went wide around the Nashville defense chipped the puck off Rinne, Teddy Blueger (5) stuffed the rebound past the Nashville goalie.
Nashville allowed three goals in less than 15 minutes and coach Peter Laviolette yanked Rinne in favor of backup Juuse Saros. Rinne stopped three of six shots before he was given the gate.
Nine Penguins had a point in the first period, but none were in the Penguins top lines or top defensive pairings.
“It’s nice when we have everyone going. It’s nice we have different guys contributing every night and you see it how many different guys we have scoring for us,” Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry said.
Penguins winger Bryan Rust broke up the run of secondary scoring early in the second period, as the Penguins top line showed skill and grit. The Penguins used three tape-to-tape passes to go end-to-end. At the offensive blue line, center Evgeni Malkin neatly tapped the puck over to a rushing Jake Guentzel. As Guentzel cut across the slot, Rust (14) went to the net and deflected Guentzel’s pass into the net.
Rust has five goals in his last seven games.
Nashville pressured the Penguins in the second period, but no-longer backup goalie Jarry made several sparkling saves. Nashville had 13 shots in the middle period and Jarry stopped them all.
Late in the second period, the Penguins spare defenseman Juuso Riikola sealed the win with highlight goal. Off a faceoff win by Jared McCann, Riikola zipped past the Nashville defensemen on the left wing and took the puck to the net. Riikola (1) snapped his own rebound top-shelf for a 5-1 lead.
“That was a goal scorer’s goal,” Rust said. “He made a nice move down the wall. He stayed with it and buried it in the top corner.”
Nashville tied the game 1-1 early in the first period. Craig Smith (6) was given credit for the goal. He deflected Matias Ekholm’s shot which hit Jarry, then caromed off defenseman Kris Letang into the Penguins net.
Nashville scored moments after a melee involving Rust, Malkin, and Nashville combatants Matias Ekholm and Matt Irwin. All four players received roughing penalties as no gloves were dropped, technically. However, all four players were embroiled in heated Greco-Roman style takedowns. Ekholm also received a 10-minute misconduct, presumably for trying to bounce Malkin’s head off the ice long after officials had intervened.
Just 19 seconds after the scraps, Victor Arvidsson (8) perfectly deflected Roman Jossi’s shot from the high slot past Jarry.
Jarry has allowed more than two goals in only four of his 15 starts this season. He improved his record to 12-5-0. While 14 Penguins had points, only Riikola had two points. Riikola was also a plus-four. The Penguins, including Jarry who tried, failed to convert the empty-net goal.
Nashville had to play with five defensemen for most of the game after Dan Hamhuis was felled by a shot early in the first period. Forward Calle Jarnkrok had to play defense in the third period after Ekholm’s 10-minute misconduct left Nashville with just three defenders.
The Penguins host Nashville Saturday night. Fans who enjoy a few bursts of anger should get their monies worth.