The Pittsburgh Penguins are not always pretty or efficient, but they are usually good enough to overcome self-inflicted mistakes. Statistically, the Penguins dominated the Montreal Canadiens, but gaffes and inability to secure the defensive zone kept the game close. Patric Hornqvist scored two goals including the game winner and Penguins survived the Montreal Canadiens, 5-3 at the Bell Centre.
Later in the third period, Patric Hornqvist could not be moved from the front of the Canadiens net. He deflected Carl Hagelin’s shot over Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi. That was just enough for the Penguins.
The sloppiness which sunk the Penguins fortunes the night before in New York followed them into Montreal. A few minutes into the game, Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen was free to deflect Jeff Petry’s shot past Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.
The Penguins were not moving well, early in the game.
A few minutes later, Jamie Oleksiak held Canadiens forward Jeff Deslauriers, who was barged to the net. Just 23 seconds into the power play, Paul Byron was one of several Canadiens uncovered in the low slot. Rather than cover bodies, Penguins penalty killers Riley Sheahan and Kris Letang jumped behind Jarry to block a shot.
Byron (17) shot it through everyone, including Jarry. The Canadiens led 2-0, but that was the Penguins turning point.
Midway through the first period, Bryan Rust hit the post on a two on one. Moments later, he got another chance. On the subsequent two on one, Rust passed to Phil Kessel (29) who one-timed it past Niemi.
Later in the first period, Patric Hornqvist showed nifty hands. On the rush, he evaded Petry in the slot, then one-handed a pass to Carl Hagelin, who raced to the net. Hornqvist’s (21) pass was deflected into the goal, and the crazy Viking was given credit.
Later in the second period, Evgeni Malkin (40) ripped a one-timer past Niemi for a power-play goal. This is the third time Malkin has 40 goals in a season but the first since 2012.
Unfortunately, Kris Letang’s struggles worsened, Thursday. The defenseman was on the ice and noticeable for the first three Canadiens goals, including a ghastly defensive zone turnover late in the second period.
Letang held the puck too long on his own zone, then tried to turn away from the Canadiens forecheck, but he failed. The turnover led to Deslaurier’s (8) wide-open blast from the slot.
The Penguins outshot the Canadiens 29-13 through two periods, but that stat was very misleading as the Canadiens tried tip plays and did not make an effort to shoot unless the shot was good. The Penguins led the final shot tally, 39-20.
Evgeni Malkin scored two points (1g, 1a) and trails Nikita Kucherov by two points, 91-89.
Analysis & Grades
Kris Letang: D+
Let’s get this one out of the way. Letang sweater clingers may want to look away. The Corsi stats were heavily in Letang’s favor. He was on the ice for 15 shots for and only four shots against (5v5). But the game isn’t played on paper. Letang made too many mistakes. He was on the ice for all three Canadiens goals.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many you get right if you get that many wrong. Letang needs a mental reset after the past couple games. He’s gone from on the verge of vintage form to…oh boy.
Bryan Rust: A
Rust scored a pair, including the empty netter. He played like it was an elimination game.
Rust has chemistry with Derick Brassard, and the pair continually disrupted the Canadiens breakouts. Rust took paint off of the post when he rang the pipe in the first period. In classic Rust fashion, he didn’t sulk and on his next shift converted a two on one with Phil Kessel.
Patric Hornqvist: A
10 shots on goal?! Yes. 10.
Hornqvist scored a pair and was unmovable in front of the net.
Sid and the Kids: C+
The magic is gone. The trio had no results to share, and not enough opportunities to say they were anything more than average.
Guentzel provided a couple of screens in front. Conor Sheary was benched in the third period, again.
On paper, Crosby had a strong effort: five shots, five high-danger chances. But, the line was third best for the Penguins. Riley Sheahan finished the game on Crosby’s right wing.
Team Grade: C+
The Penguins are far more talented than the Canadiens yet nearly squandered a second straight game. The Penguins mistakes kept the Canadiens in the game–from Jamie Oleksiak’s bad penalty in the first period, to Letang’s giveaway in the second.
You don’t win Stanley Cups with sloppy play.
However, the third period was a good effort. The Penguins found their defensive game.