Evgeni Malkin rebounded from a rough night Tuesday to torture the Montreal Canadiens, scoring a goal and an assist in the first period
The Penguins start was reminiscent of Tuesday’s debacle against the New York Islanders. Just as Tuesday night, the Penguins yielded a golden chance. Penguins winger Jake Guentzel turned the puck over the defensive blue line and Canadiens forward Paul Byron had a short breakaway.
Rookie netminder Casey DeSmith stopped Byron, and the Penguins settled down.
Midway through the first period, the Penguins were the first to light the lamp. Malkin won an offensive zone faceoff and crashed the net. Canadiens goalie Carey Price bobbled a shot from Carl Hagelin. Malkin lunged for the loose puck, and it eventually deflected off his leg into the net.
In one of the last goaltender interference challenges to be decided by on-ice officials, the stripes ruled it was a good goal. The new rule, passed by the GM’s this week for immediate implementation, will have future challenges decided by video officials in Toronto.
Later in the period, Malkin led the power-play rush. He danced around one defender then set up Patric Hornqvist (23) who wristed the puck through a screen past Price.
However, Montreal scored the next three goals.
In the final 30 seconds of the first period, Paul Byron deked his way past Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. Jonathan Drouin (12) cleaned up the rebound.
Early in the second period, Jamie Oleksiak slashed Brendan Gallagher on a breakaway. DeSmith stoned Gallagher on the resulting penalty shot, then stared down the winger.
“That was thrilling, especially at home. The crowd goes wild, and you make a glove save, so that was really cool,” beamed DeSmith.
At the halfway point of the second period, talented but defensively challenged Canadiens forward Nikita Scherbak went cherry picking. Scherbak broke towards center ice in hopes his linemate Charles Hudon would win the loose puck behind the net. Hudon did, and Scherbak (4) finished the breakaway to tie the game.
With five minutes remaining in the second period, another sloppy Penguins line change allowed the Canadiens an offensive rush. Jakub de la Rose‘s initial shot caromed off DeSmith and high into the air. As everyone else lost sight of the puck, de la Rose poked it past DeSmith as it landed. Montreal lead 3-2.
Just 38 seconds later, Sidney Crosby scored his first goal in five games. And it was a beauty.
Crosby tipped Jake Guentzel’s fluttering shot to himself. In classic Zombieland Rule #2 fashion, Crosby double tapped the puck into the air away from Price, then tapped it out of the air behind Price. Oh just watch it:
Derick Brassard snapped the game-winner on the power play, a couple minutes into the third period. Point man Olli Maatta kept the puck into the zone, and Jake Guentzel had space on the wall. From the slot, Brassard (20) one-timed Guentzel’s pass and the Penguins earned a needed win.
Guentzel added a pretty snipe off the right wing in the final 90 seconds to seal the win.
Brassard has a four-game point streak.
“It’s a completely new style for me. I’m just trying to play the Penguins way,” said Brassard.
DeSmith stopped 27 of 30 shots. Price stopped only 34 of 39.
In addition to DeSmith stopping Gallagher on a penalty shot, Price also stopped Brassard on a penalty shot one minute into the first period.
“If I could go again, I’d probably do something different, obviously,” joked Brassard.
Malkin had two points and now trails Nikita Kucherov by three points in the Art Ross trophy race. Jake Guentzel had two helpers, as well as the goal.
Analysis and Report Card:
Casey DeSmith: B+
DeSmith made three big saves in the first period, stuffed Brendan Gallagher’s penalty shot in the second and made a diving stop, shorthanded, in the third. DeSmith mostly steers his rebounds to safe ground and keeps the play alive by moving the puck.
The 26-year-old Cinderella, out of nowhere (UNH), beat Carey Price. Not bad.
Conor Sheary: B
Good news for the Penguins, Sheary has turned in a pair of strong games in a row. Sheary stood out on the third line, which otherwise had its troubles.
Sheary’s nifty little pass through center-ice sprung Brassard on the breakaway which led to Brassard’s penalty shot.
In fact, the Canadiens top unit Byron-Drouin-Gallagher had its way with the Penguins third line.
Phil Kessel: C-
Kessel looked disinterested defensively. Byron stole the puck from Kessel at least twice, and Kessel’s slow retreat was a factor in a Canadiens glorious scoring chance in the first period. In an odd scene, Brassard kept looking back to Kessel who was coasting up ice. In the process of looking back, Brassard missed his man who crashed the net.
The trio’s puck mismanagement late in the first period, which gave Paul Byron possession was the only blight on a great night for them, and the only reason they don’t get an A+.
Malkin seemed intent on erasing his poor effort from Tuesday night. He had drive from the opening shift. Malkin’s two points put him three behind Nikita Kucherov in the Art Ross race.
Sidney Crosby was dynamic. His linemates, however, at 5v5, may qualify as missing children.
Yes, Guentzel had three points, but his assist on the Crosby goal was more bystander to greatness than it was an assist. The other apple was a power-play goal. The Penguins desperately need more from Crosby and company. Against tougher competition, their play won’t win many games.
Perhaps Guentzel’s goal in the closing minutes will give him the same boost a marker gave Sheary, a couple of weeks ago.