We at Pittsburgh Hockey Now are willing to do some different things in delivering the best coverage possible.
In lieu of a traditional recap, here’s an assortment of Moments That Mattered from the Penguins’ 6-3 win over the Senators on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena …
GOAL: Jake Guentzel (17) from Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin, power play, 4:07 of the first period.
The Penguins (32-22-4) weren’t their smothering selves in the first 40 minutes of this game, but they never had to chase Ottawa because — on their only power-play opportunity of the night — Guentzel tipped Schultz’s point drive past Mike Condon‘s glove hand for a 1-0 lead.
Guentzel’s been effective on the advantage this season, as that was his seventh power-play tally out of 18 total goals. But in his previous 18 games, Guentzel had just three goals and two assists. He finished Sunday’s win in St. Louis on the fourth line, sparingly used.
“It’s definitely nice when you can get one early like that,” Guentzel said afterward. “Makes you feel a little better throughout the whole game.”
Putting individual breakthroughs aside, in terms of winning the game and staying ahead of Philadelphia for second in the Metropolitan Division, Guentzel’s first of two gained the all-important lead against the passive, patient Senators. There were still eight goals to follow in the game, but the first one put the Penguins on track to extend their hot streak to 13-4-1.
“Maybe it makes them press a little bit and get out of their system,” Guentzel said. “Nice to get one and go from there.”
SAVE: Matt Murray, on Cody Ceci, 8:40 of the second.
The Senators (19-27-9) did a fine job controlling territory from the start, using Guy Boucher‘s one-man forecheck to good effect, although they didn’t start generating great scoring chances until the second period. After Guentzel countered Derick Brassard‘s equalizer early in the middle frame, Ceci nearly responded on the counterattack.
But as you saw above, Murray read Zack Smith‘s pass beautifully and showed off his underrated athleticism. It was the best of his 30 saves.
“Especially in those first two periods, he made some big saves for us,” Mike Sullivan said. “The way we played the first two periods, we probably didn’t deserve to have a lead. Matt was a big reason why we did.”
GIVEAWAY: Sidney Crosby, 17:16 of the second.
In the midst of a productive, three-assist night, Crosby uncharacteristically tossed a breakout pass right to Tom Pyatt, leading to Colin White‘s net-front goal and keeping the Penguins from skating away with a blowout win.
Perhaps Crosby was surprised by the Senators’ rare aggressive posture on the play, but the turnover marked a good example of the shoddy puck management that helped Ottawa out-attempt Pittsburgh 44-34 through two periods.
“I thought they outplayed us for first two periods,” Sullivan said. “That’s what I told the guys after the second period: ‘Don’t be fooled by the score.’ We played well in the third, but for the first two periods, we didn’t defend hard enough, we didn’t take care of the puck. They’re a good team. They get numbers back. They play with structure.”
That’s nothing the Penguins didn’t know after facing Boucher’s bunch over seven tight games in last year’s Eastern Conference Final. Still, it took the champs a while to find balance while facing a team swimming against the NHL’s fast-paced current.
“We’re going to see teams that play a lot differently,” Murray said. “A lot of teams play like us, where it’s all about puck pressure and possession. Other teams play a solid defensive structure where they sit back and wait for turnovers. When we play a team like that, I don’t think we can be stubborn and try to make plays through them.”
GOAL: Malkin (31) from Carl Hagelin and Justin Schultz, 10:01 of the second.
Rest assured Dan Kingerski will break down Hagelin’s crafty decision-making on this goal that made it 3-1 midway through the game. The PHN Film Study never lets you down.
However, I’ll leave you with this nugget: Malkin’s pace of 0.57 goals per game this year is tied with 2007-08 for the second-best lamp-lighting pace of his career. He probably won’t match the 47 he put up in his second season, but 40 is attainable with nearly two months to play.
The only season when Malkin scored goals at a better clip? Try 2011-12, when he buried 0.67 per game en route to a 50-goal output, his second scoring title and his only Hart Trophy (MVP) to date.
HIT POST: Brassard, 16:03 of the second.
Brassard, a name mentioned by multiple reporters over the weekend as in play from a trade perspective, nearly had a two-goal night in what might’ve amounted to an audition. A few minutes before his near-miss, Brassard had capped a terrific shift between Smith and Mark Stone with a bullet slapper that beat Murray high from the left circle.
The Penguins haven’t been heavily linked to Brassard, but his two-way game down the middle would make him quite the deadline addition if Jim Rutherford could pull it off. The issue, as usual, will be salary, as Brassard has a $5 million cap hit this year and next.
Brassard piled up six other shot attempts to his 15th goal, making him one of the few offensive bright spots for sinking Ottawa. He was a plus-10 in shot-attempt differential, the Senators’ best even-strength mark of the evening.
END OF SHIFT: Dion Phaneuf, 9:15 of the second.
Not long after Guentzel got inside position on the 6-foot-4, 225-pound defenseman to finish Phil Kessel‘s rebound, Phaneuf skated his final shift in three seasons as a Senator. He did not return to the game, but it wasn’t due to injury.
General manager Pierre Dorion pulled the trigger mid-game, sending the 32-year-old Phaneuf to the Kings along with Nate Thompson for Marián Gáborik and Nick Shore. Interestingly enough, the Kings play the Penguins on Thursday in Pittsburgh, so Dion can stay in town.
GOAL: Zach-Aston Reese (1), from Crosby and Conor Sheary, 11:22 of the second.
In his fifth NHL game, last year’s NCAA Division I goal-scoring champion netted his first two goals at the top level. The second was an empty-netter, but the first was against an actual goalie. After Sheary intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, Crosby dished softly ahead to Aston-Reese, who buried a wrister through Condon’s arm.
It wasn’t the most artful finish, but it chased Condon after four goals allowed on 11 shots.
“I just remember Sheary being in a good spot in the neutral zone,” Aston-Reese said. “Just tried to get the puck on net. (Crosby) can find you pretty much anywhere.”
Aston-Reese played an NHL-high 14:29 in the game, a result of being placed with Crosby and Sheary for much of the final 40 minutes. He and fellow rookie left winger Dominik Simon traded places when Sullivan looked for a spark, as he often does.
Could we see more of ZAR? He has seemed a bit skittish when nearing the opposing goal in his first NHL stint, but Sullivan professed to like his overall game so far.
“I think he’s getting better with every game that he plays,” Sullivan said. “He’s a solid two-way player. Strong on the puck, good along the wall. He goes to the net. Good awareness. He’s getting a little more confidence. I think he’s hanging onto pucks more. Because of that fact, his ice time is gonna grow.”