The Pittsburgh Penguins were listless, lifeless and according to their head coach, going through the motions. However, the Penguins talented offense shined brightly as they scored seven goals on their first 21 shots including Kris Letang’s unassisted steal and a breakaway goal in the second period. Six Penguins had two-point games including Letang and Sidney Crosby, as the Penguins shot the lights out in Madison Square Garden and beat the New York Rangers, 7-2.
Crosby has at least two points in five straight games. The Penguins have won seven in a row.
The Penguins looked lost in the first period. Pucks bounced past sticks and potential one-timers whizzed past shooters. The Penguins managed just five shots in the first 20 minutes and none of those were noteworthy. Certainly, none were goals.
“You can see we’re trying to produce in different ways. When it’s not going in, we’re trying to work hard for it and put pucks on net,” said Domink Simon. And the Penguins didn’t need to put a lot of pucks on net against New York. “It’s a lot of fun to score goals.”
It is fun and the Penguin quick strike ability was on full display in the second period. Even as their head coach Mike Sullivan chided them during a bench interview for lack of “emotional engagement,” the Penguins scored on three of four shots over a nearly six-minute span. Yes, it took nearly six minutes to get four shots, but only six minutes to score three goals.
The Penguins first great chance was in the back of the New York net. Defenseman Kris Letang skated the puck low and center Matt Cullen won a low zone puck battle. Cullen served up a pass to Zach Aston-Reese, who was uncovered in front of the net. Aston-Reese (6), a Staten Island native, went top-shelf over New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist to finally inject some offense into the lifeless free-skate.
Four minutes later, Jake Guentzel (17) scored on a long, soft wrist shot which deflected off New York defenseman Marc-Staal’s stick.
One minute after the Penguins sniped their second goal, Letang earned another goal. The potential All-Star defenseman bowled over Pavel Buchnevich at the New York blue line, stole the puck and charged Lundqvist unabated. Letang (7) showed a goal scorer’s touch as he snapped the shot over Lundqvist’s glove hand.
Letang is a candidate for the “Last Man In” vote for the NHL All-Star game.
Late in the second period, Dominik Simon and Evgeni Malkin found some redemption for earlier turnovers. Simon (5) flew past defenders in the slot and Malkin laid a cross-ice pass on his stick for a point-blank goal.
As he did in the first period, Murray made several crucial saves including an extended pad save on Jesper Fast, who had a glorious rebound chance.
The Penguins continued to torture Lundqvist, who was named to the Metro Division All-Star team earlier, Wednesday.
Just one minute into the third period, Evgeni Malkin charged the net. As the puck was poked off his stick, Lundqvist misplayed the puck as it slowly slid through Lundqvist’s five-hole. Malkin (13) scored his first even-strength goal since Dec. 4.
“When you win, your confidence is always a little bit better, but…it’s been tough games for me,” Malkin both conceded and laughed. “I’m still working, you know?
New York did respond quickly to the Penguins third and fifth goals. Just 26 seconds after Letang made it 3-0, Ryan Strome (4) deflected Brady Skjei’s shot past Murray for first New York goal. And 19 seconds after Malkin scored the Penguins fifth goal, Pavel Buchnevich (7) was left uncovered in front of the Penguins net for second New York goal.
However, the Penguins power play scored their eighth goal in their last 10 chances when Tanner Pearson (5) whipped a long wrister past Lundqvist.
New York pulled Lundqvist for Alaxandar Georgiev for the remaining 19 minutes. The Penguins didn’t shoot on Georgiev for nearly 10 full minutes until a three-shot barrage culminated in Crosby (19) beating Georgiev from the slot with seven minutes remaining.
Murray made 28 saves and won his sixth start in a row. He raised his record to 10-5-1.
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