Not every game must be a masterpiece or a high-intensity slugfest with strict systematic play. Sometimes a team has to use the bigger picture as motivation instead of the opponent and grit through an emotionless game. The Pittsburgh Penguins did that Monday night as they overcame a flatline start and converted on their open chances to beat the New York Rangers 5-2 at Madison Square Garden.
The Penguins trail the Washington Capitals by just one point for the Metro Division lead but Washington has one game in hand.
Teddy Blueger was fast and New York was loose. Blueger earned a pair of goals with speed as he got past the New York defenders on both occasions. Matt Cullen (6) also scored a goal when New York defensemen didn’t contest the Penguins low cycle play. Cullen was actually left wide open.
And get this: With Nick Bjugstad’s tally in the first period and Blueger’s second goal, the Penguins also got a pair of rebound goals, too.
That doesn’t happen often enough. Sullivan singled out the Bjugstad goal, too.
“I think it’s a huge goal. I thought that line, in particular, was good in the first period. That was a huge goal because it kept the game in striking distance,” Mike Sulivan said.
As we wrote this morning, the Penguins have created very few rebound chances and that was one reason why the third line with Bjugstad was not been scoring. Well, we wrote it and hours later the dynamic changed (that’s happened quite a bit this season). The Penguins third line led the Penguins comeback by getting–you can probably guess–a rebound goal.
The Penguins did need to mount a comeback because they were even sloppier than New York in the first period. And they nearly let it slip away. Moments after the Bjugstad goal, the line nearly yielded a third New York goal. Defenseman Zach Trotman blocked what was otherwise an easy New York goal.
Adding to the ugliness in the first period, the Penguins top line was responsible for the first New York goal. Sidney Crosby failed to get the puck in deep after Justin Schultz pinched deep in the zone. Then Crosby was slow to cover defensively. So too was Jake Guentzel as the pair were flatfooted when New York transitioned to offense.
The sloppy play created a three-on-two with Brendan Lemieux as the late trailer. You’ve seen that movie before. When the Penguins going through the motions, teams are able to transition against them and get open players behind the rush. Brendan Lemieux (12) pulled up behind the center drive and was wide open.
The Penguins are definitely in trouble when the Crosby line is not working hard. They did rebound in the second and third periods.
“I think we were a little lax on the defensive side of the puck (in the first period). We gave them some odd-man rushes and they capitalized,” Bjugstad said.
Tactically, the Penguins had an easier night. New York was neither tight nor physical so the Penguins were able to do what they wanted, offensively and often on the rush, too.