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Penguins Crack the King: PHN Extra Report Card vs. New York Rangers
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Penguins Crack the King: PHN Extra Report Card vs. New York Rangers

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NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 02: Pittsburgh Penguins Goalie Matt Murray (30) tries to cover a rebound during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers on January 2, 2019 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

How does one grade a blowout win in which the Pittsburgh Penguins took only 25 shots and needed their goaltender to save their bacon more than a few times in the first 25 minutes? The Penguins won their seventh straight, Wednesday night by beating the New York Rangers, 7-2. It wasn’t their best effort but they did make an All-Star goalie look bad. And the All-Star goalie helped them with a couple of softies, too.

Such is life on a seven-game winning streak.

The Penguins keep finding different ways to win during the streak. The power play bailed them out in St. Louis while sniping goals at a moments notice carried the day in Minnesota and New York. The one constant has been spectacular goaltending from Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith. It was Murray’s turn, Wednesday and he didn’t disappoint.

Murray covered the net in shadows as the big goalie again looked big. He has been brilliant in his past two games.

“I thought he was good all night long, especially early in the game,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.

In the first period, the Penguins had only five shots. And they were fortunate to get that many. The Penguins were unable to work the puck in deep against New York, which not only stacked the blue line against the Penguins but attacked at the blue, as well.

Vlad Namestnikov’s breakaway around the nine-minute mark in the first period was a prime example. After a beautiful breakout under duress, Patric Hornqvist attempted to enter the New York zone with a controlled zone entry. The puck was quickly poked away, and New York counter-attacked ahead of the Penguins who were caught racing towards the New York zone.

Murray made the save. As he had to do too many times until New York realized they were beaten. That moment came several minutes into the third period.

“We didn’t have our legs. I don’t think it was our best effort, especially on this road trip,” Sullivan lamented. “We just didn’t seem to play with a lot of energy or intensity, but we were opportunistic on some of the chances that we got.”

Actually, the Penguins were opportunistic on nearly all of their chances. The Penguins converted in their moment of offense in the second period. And converted again, again, and again. Three goals in four shots and four goals on 15 shots in the first two periods.

But it’s hard to praise the Penguins for doing a lot right. Believe it or not–the Penguins best line in the first half of the game was the third line with Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard. No, really. Kessel led the way with the puck and put Brassard in open spaces to make the final play or shoot on a few occasions. They had a defensive miscue, but so did everyone else in white, black and gold.

The line performed nearly the way we drew it up, Wednesday morning. Phil Kessel led the rush and Brassard followed. It was a good effort by both. Maybe they can play nice?

When the game was competitive, the Penguins often countered the Rangers 1-2-2 with their own softer neutral zone strategy. Whether that was intentional or the result of not getting the puck deep and getting after it may be another matter.

Sullivan was right to lament his team’s effort. Like the 6-1 win in St. Louis in which the Penguins power play broke St. Louis, the Penguins broke New York with timely goals despite being outplayed.

Penguins Report Card

Pearson-Brassard-Kessel: B

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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