Dominik Simon scored his first NHL goal, and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight. Phil Kessel also scored his 700th point en route to the Penguins 5-2 win over the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena.
The win put the Penguins into the Eastern Conference first Wild Card spot, though the Penguins have played the most games in the division (T-1st with CBJ, 46).
Three minutes into the game, after a couple scoring good scoring chances, the Penguins poked one past Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The second line Swedes, Carl Hagelin, and Patric Hornqvist got behind the Rangers defense to wreak havoc.
Hornqvist beat Brendan Smith to Kris Letang’s chip in and put the puck on net. Hagelin also beat the Rangers defense to the net and freed the rebound for Hornqvist (13) to get the ugly goal. 1-0.
The Penguins broke the Rangers in the second period with 18 shots on goal.
Midway through the second period, the Penguins scored twice in 90 seconds, including the game-winner. Dominik Simon, who had a pair of high-end chances in the first period, finally got his first NHL goal.
Simon battled in front and found a rebound on his stick with one of the greatest goalies in NHL history sprawled before him. Simon (1) did not miss. The kid nearly lept out of the building. 2-2. Brian Dumoulin and Sidney Crosby had assists.
“I was hoping it was going to come. I had some shots in the last game, so I was trying to do my best to go for it,” Simon said with a smile missing one front tooth.
Mike Sullivan also stressed the coaching staff has felt Simon “has had some strong games.”
75 seconds later, Lundqvist experienced what NHL goaltenders dread: Phil Kessel alone on the dot. The Penguins third line showed their teeth. Jake Guentzel’s forecheck forced a turnover. Conor Sheary was first to the wall to get the loose puck. Sheary put it on Kessel’s stick in the right wing circle, and Kessel (20) whipped the puck top shelf past Lundqvist. 3-2.
It was the 10th straight season Kessel has scored at least 20 goals.
The teams also got feisty midway through the second period. Penguins bruiser Ryan Reaves, who flattened Pavel Buchnevich in the first period, launched Rangers defenseman Marc Staal at the blue line.
Moments later, Smith returned the favor on Reaves along the wall. All legal hits, but ferocious nonetheless.
Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak quickly grabbed Smith, and the two dropped the mitts. Oleksiak quickly got the better of the fight but also got a two-minute instigator and 10-minute misconduct penalty. Pittsburgh Hockey Now got a couple minutes with Oleksiak in the locker room.
“I’m just looking after the little guys,” joked Oleksiak. “Reaves popped up quick, but I just kind of beat him to the punch there.” No pun intended?
The fight calmed the waters. The instigator call and misconduct penalty were excessive. Officials may have felt Oleksiak got Smith before he was ready. The Penguins killed the penalty, even if they played with only five defensemen for the last 10 minutes of the period.
The Penguins line shuffling began in the third period, for defensive purposes. Third line center Jake Guentzel saw declining ice time, as Crosby began taking shifts with Conor Sheary and Phil Kessel. That line bore fruit with eight minutes remaining.
With eight minutes remaining, Kessel drew the attention of three Rangers defenders deep in the zone. Crosby (17) was left alone in the slot. Yes, the Rangers forgot to cover Sidney Patrick Crosby. The Rangers immediately regretted that mistake. 4-2.
It became Crosby’s fourth straight multi-point game.
Fittingly, Carl Hagelin (3) added the empty-netter.
“(Hagelin’s) last three or four games have been his strongest of the year,” said Sullivan. Hagelin has points in three straight games. Sunday, he had two points (1g, 1a).
The Penguins dominated most of the game. They had 47 shots. The Rangers just 28.
The Penguins head out west for a three-game California swing. A back-to-back with the Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings await them, Wednesday and Thursday. A 2016 Stanley Cup Final rematch with the San Jose Sharks is Saturday.
Analysis and Press Box Nachos
–The Penguins coaches are protecting Jake Guentzel at center. His size was a noticeable disadvantage in the first period as Rangers pivot Mika Zibanejad shooed him away, easily, and the Rangers were able to get through center ice quickly.
He was more noticeable in the offensive zone. He didn’t get a point on Kessel’s goal, but it was his forecheck which created the loose puck which Sheary fed to Kessel.
Guentzel played just 12 minutes, including a few shifts at left wing in the third period.
–Column coming soon, but the Hagelin-Malkin-Hornqvist line is a pure joy to watch. Hagelin’s speedy puck retrieval, combined with Hornqvist’s wrecking ball style, and Malkin’s skill. There are better lines in hockey, but I’m not sure how many more complete lines there are.
–As if by magic wand, the Penguins room is fresh and fun. Guys aren’t hesitating to joke around. The heaviness which accompanied the first half malaise appears to be gone.
–Daniel Sprong isn’t known as a fast skater, in the same terms as Conor Sheary or Carl Hagelin. But, Sprong gets to where he’s going quickly. He has powerful strides.
–Simon is fun to interview. He is enjoying this ride. The smile doesn’t leave his face. It hasn’t since his first game. Good on him!
–Tristan Jarry has a very active blocker. He uses it sometimes as a second trapper.
–Sullivan has deftly handled the Penguins center situation. You’ll notice Sidney Crosby is no longer defending the opposing team’s top line. That job is shared.
On the road, look for the Kings and Ducks especially to try to get that matchup with Sprong and Simon on the ice. It will be something to pay close attention. Or, the Penguins will need to toss Jake Guentzel into the deep water and let that line do more defending.
Right now, Malkin and Swedes are doing a lot of the chores, too.