No Letang? No Problem. Joseph Leads Penguins to 6-3 Win
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Pittsburgh Penguins had to get by without their best defenseman Friday night, when Kris Letang wasn’t able to play against Anaheim because he was ill.
Being without him obviously creates a significant void in their lineup, and there are nights when not having Letang can be too much for them to overcome.
This wasn’t one of them, mostly because the six defensemen they did dress turned in some quality work at both ends of the ice.
Especially in the offensive zone.
It’s not just that P.O Joseph scored two goals and set up another in their 6-3 victory against the Ducks at Honda Center, although that was hard to overlook. But here’s the real evidence of how involved the defensemen were, as a group: They accounted for 20 of the 59 shots the Penguins launched at Ducks goalie John Gibson.
The defensemen weren’t the only ones who had a productive evening, however: Evgeni Malkin had two assists to become just the third player in franchise history to put up 1,200 career points.
The Penguins’ defensemen were aggressive, but not foolhardy, in the attacking zone, pinching when the opportunities arose and staying active when play was in the Anaheim end.
Whether that was part of the Penguins’ game plan or simply a reaction to the way the Ducks were defending wasn’t clear, but it certainly was effective.
It was not immediately known whether Letang will be available when the Penguins visit Los Angeles Saturday night, although Mike Sullivan sounded after the game as if that’s a distinct possibility.
Letang’s absence opened a spot for Mark Friedman, who was plugged into his spot alongside Brian Dumoulin.
Anaheim was missing a noteworthy player, too, as forward Troy Terry was placed on injured-reserve and listed as week-to-week because of an unspecified injury.
The Penguins have had issues with slow starts, but that wasn’t a problem against the Ducks.
They dominated the first period, running up a 25-8 edge in shots that was a reasonable reflection of the flow of play.
And thanks to a pair of late goals — from members of the slumping third line, no less — they took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.
The Penguins recorded 10 of the first 11 shots in the game, and took a 1-0 lead when Joseph beat Ducks goalie John Gibson on the stick side with a wrist shot through traffic from the high slot.
Teddy Blueger and Josh Archibald got assists on the goal, Joseph’s third.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to take a chokehold on the game when Anaheim’s Mason McTavish was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking Friedman, but they failed to capitalize despite generating several quality chances, including a Jake Guentzel shot that caromed off the crossbar.
The Ducks got their first chance with the extra man when Kasperi Kapanen was called for hooking at 15:24, and needed just two seconds — yes, two seconds — to tie the game.
Adan Henrique pushed the puck toward the crease off a faceoff in the left circle and Trevor Zegras pounced on it and flipped a backhander over Casey DeSmith’s glove at 15:26.
Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk tripped Guentzel — and incurred the wrath of Friedman at the same time — at 15:59, and watched from the penalty box as a Kapanen wrist shot from near the top of the right circle glanced off the stick of Anaheim’s Simon Benoit and past Gibson at 17:38.
That goal, Kapanen’s seventh, netted assists for Joseph and Bryan Rust.
The Penguins got a little extra breathing room as the period was winding down, when Jeff Carter corralled a loose puck in the crease, then pulled it back to the inner edge of the right circle before flipping a shot over Gibson at 19:47.
The goal was Carter’s first point in 12 games and his eighth goal of the season. Kapanen got the lone assist.
The Penguins’ game lost some of its urgency during the second period, but that didn’t prevent them from taking a three-goal lead.
Joseph got the goal — giving him two in a game for the first time in his career — at 14:55, burying a shot behind Gibson from above the left hash. It was the Penguins’ 38th shot of the game.
The goal was set up by Malkin, who also assisted on Bryan Rust’s goal at 10:04 of the third to reach his milestone.
Rust tossed a backhander by Gibson from in front of the net and Guentzel snapped a five-game goal-less streak by sliding in a shot from low in the right circle at 12:08 for his 21st.
Sidney Crosby assisted on Guentzel’s goal, stretching his scoring streak to nine games.
The Ducks whittled the Penguins’ margin of victory on late goals by Mason McTavish (13:34) and John Klingberg (15:58).
The Pittsburgh Penguins will make the second stop on their four-game road trip Saturday night, when they will face Los Angeles at Crypto.com Arena.