The Pittsburgh Penguins again used the three-on-three overtime format to their advantage. Evgeni Malkin scored a goal and two assists, including a helper on Justin Schultz‘s game-winning sudden-death goal.
The Penguins’ speed, skill and outright enjoyment of the NHL’s free-for-all overcame the Calgary Flames rugged performance 4-3 in overtime at PPG Paints Arena.
“With the skill level we have, we should have the ability to win those games more than we lose,” said head coach Mike Sullivan, whose longer answer hinted at both relief and unhappiness with his team’s overall play.
In overtime, Phil Kessel drew both Flames defenders to the right wing while Schultz was gifted the entire the left flank. Kessel slipped the pass to the wide-open Schultz (4) who handily beat Flames goalie Jon Gillies.
Jake Guentzel expressed his satisfaction with the Penguins’ fortunes in overtime situations, too. The Penguins are 9-2 when games are decide in overtime, not counting the four others that have gone through to the shootout.
“Yeah, with the guys we have up front and the back, it’s pretty scary the groups we put out there,” Guentzel grinned.
Only two minutes into the game, Riley Sheahan did the dirty work for the Penguins first goal. Sheahan kept the play alive and out-muscled a pair of Flames behind the net. Sheahan steered the loose puck to Kessel, who snapped it to Chad Ruhwedel at the point. Ruhwedel’s (2) shot eluded Gillies.
Just two minutes later, Malkin showed extraordinary hand-eye coordination by plucking Gillies clearing attempt from mid-air. Gillies was caught behind the goal line and Malkin (37) easily put it into the empty net.
Penguins rookie tender Tristan Jarry did his part, as well.
Jarry robbed Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie from point-blank range early. He stoned Mark Jankowski‘s one-timer in the second period. Jarry earned chants with a couple of big stops in the third period and overtime.
The Flames, however, did not allow the Penguins to breathe easily. The Flames rallied for a pair of goals in the first period to square the frame.
Flames center Matt Stajan blocked all sunlight and Mark Giordano‘s (11) wrist shot from the wall sailed past Jarry midway through the first period. A few minutes later, Mikael Backlund (13) stickhandled and dangled around Kris Letang and Jarry. Backlund’s beauty tied the game and gave the Flames life.
The Penguins battled through the second period with a slight edge in chances.
After trading chances and puck battles for much of the second period, Letang borrowed Kessel’s office for what seemed to be a big goal. Malkin bull rushed the Flames defense through center ice and Letang was open from the right wing circle. Like Kessel, Letang (6) lit the lamp from the dot. The Penguins led 3-2.
The Penguins eased up in the final moments of the second period but the Flames did not. With only two seconds to go, Brodie skated past Olli Maatta on the right wing. Ruhwedel was left alone in front of the net to guard two Flames. Ruhwedel nullified one but couldn’t get Troy Brouwer too. Brouwer (5) scored from the edge of the crease to tie the game.
The Flames dominated the first 12 minutes of the third period with an aggressive forecheck and physical puck battles but could not beat Jarry.
“We’re not the biggest team. It’s a matter of chipping bodies here and there,” said Guentzel. “It’s playoff hockey now. We’re down to the last month. We all know that and we all enjoy that.”
The Penguins gathered their wind but could not beat Gillies in the final minutes despite good chances by Conor Sheary, Sidney Crosby and Derick Brassard.
Notes, Analysis and Press Box Nachos:
• Malkin now trails Nikita Kucherov by just three points for the NHL scoring race. Another Art Ross trophy would do wonders for Malkin’s standing (hello, Top 100 snub), especially one after his 30th birthday.
Malkin was both spectacular and a little short of a full 200-foot game Monday. On Letang’s goal, the big Russian forced the Flames top defensive pairing (Giordano and Travis Hamonic) to give ground at the blue line as he skated away from the Flames top line, including Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
• Jarry was very good. Very, very good. In overtime, he stared down a two-on-none and Gaudreau in close. A little defensive help and a couple big stops early sent his confidence into orbit. The puck kept getting bigger as the game progressed. When Jarry is playing well, he is a big goaltender despite his average 6-foot-1 inch stature.
To cap the night, Jarry took away Gaudreau’s angle in overtime which created a missed shot on a breakaway from center ice.
• For the rest of the analysis (Ruhwedel, Letang, Sheary and more) and locker room conversations, please consider becoming a contributor to Pittsburgh Hockey Now on Patreon. Please join us here!
• By the way—My new friends from Hungary are breaking the Guinness Book of World Record for most hockey games in a month. Zoltan Borthos and Attila Szalmas plan to see 32 games in 31 days. Tonight was their sixth. The pair thinks they will see the Penguins five or six times. I consider myself lucky to be their official Pittsburgh witness to history!