PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel each scored goals from behind the goal line, the Ottawa Senators could not stay out of the penalty box and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Senators 4-0 at PPG Paints Arena. Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith stopped all 34 Senators shots for his first NHL shutout.
The Penguins clinched second place in the Metropolitan Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which will begin April 11 or April 12.
After a scoreless first period, the Penguins’ power play got things started.
Just one minute into the second period, Sidney Crosby did what Sidney Crosby does. From below the goal line, Crosby (29) banked his shot off Senators goalie Craig Anderson into the net. Anderson knew the shot was coming and tried to jump over the shot, but it was too late.
The Penguins were 1 for 6 on the power play which was enough to set the franchise mark for season efficiency. The Penguins finished the season at 26.2 percent, which eclipsed the 26.0 percent by the 1995-96 team anchored by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Ron Francis.
Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz had no idea. The defenseman was informed by the assembled media and just chuckled. He didn’t have much reaction beyond that:
“I didn’t know about that,” smiled Schultz. “We’re just going out there trying to help the team win.”
Guentzel followed Crosby’s lead seven minutes into the second period. From behind the goal line, Guentzel whacked the bouncing puck towards Anderson and as before, it caromed off Anderson into the net.
“He’s played better over the last handful of games,” said Mike Sullivan, who stressed the word “better”. “He can be streaky.”
Phil Kessel added to his career-high points total about seven minutes into the third period. After Conor Sheary shot and shot again on Anderson, Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak took a turn, too. Centerman Riley Sheahan tapped Oleksiak’s rebound to the uncovered Kessel (34), who easily slammed it into the open net.
Kessel, including his assist on Crosby’s goal, finished the season with 92 points. His previous best was 80 points in 2013-14.
Later in the third period, Patric Hornqvist scored his 11th goal in 14 games. Hornqvist one-timed a pass from Crosby and the game was no longer in doubt.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Hornqvist about his hot streak but before he answered, Evgeni Malkin interjected, “because he’s playing with 71!” It was a jovial locker room.
The first period was a back-and-forth affair with more chances than shots and nearly more penalty minutes than either. Malkin touched off a small melee between the benches when he retaliated to Zach Smith‘s small slash with a big slash then a few cross checks.
Malkin skated to the Penguins bench but Smith didn’t feel like he had a say, so Smith raced to the Penguins bench to deliver a few shots to Malkin. Smith was unpenalized but Malkin earned minor penalties for slashing and cross checking.
Later in the first period, Ryan Dzingel earned four minutes for high sticking when his stick caught Riley Sheahan in the face. Dzingel remained by the momentarily fell Sheahan to offer apologies, and tempers cooled.
Also in the first period, Hornqvist was given a slashing call and Ottawa got the gate for too many men on the ice. The teams combined for 12 penalty minutes in only the first period.
The Penguins took only one more penalty (Carl Hagelin cross checking) over the rest of the game while Ottawa took three more penalties in the second period.
The Penguins had only 23 shots. However, their penalty kill had a clean game and killed all four Senators power plays.
DeSmith was his humble, happy self after his first career shutout.
“It’s thrilling. Everything you’d expect it to be,” DeSmith said. “I’m just really thankful it came at an important time and game.”
DeSmith made several key saves in the second period, including a quick lateral slide to his right to stop Matt Duchene‘s one-timer from 10 feet and a nifty glove save on Alex Burrows snap shot from the right wing circle.
Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson did not travel to Pittsburgh for the game. He remained behind to be with family following the recent death of their child.
The playoffs await. The Penguins should find out who their first-round opponent will be tomorrow night, but it may take until Sunday when the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins play a make-up game.