Connect with us


Penguins Six-Pack: Getting Defensive; Crosby Comes Through



Alex Lyon, Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins were not upset with their effort during a 7-4 loss to the New York Rangers Saturday, even though they didn’t care much for the result.

They did, however, feel there was room for improvement, and they made some during a 6-3 victory over Detroit Sunday at PPG Paints Arena.

“I thought we were much better defensively tonight,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “Certainly, than we were (Saturday). The types of looks (the Rangers) got, versus today, I thought (New York) had more quality looks. … I thought we did a better job just defending, with numbers, keeping the puck to the perimeter. That’s just an essential aspect of winning. You have to be able to keep it out of your net.”

Although the Red Wings, like the Rangers, finished with 28 shots, the Penguins held them to just four in the opening period, when they built a 3-1 lead.

The Penguins would get at least one goal from each of their top three lines, and no fewer than 12 of their 18 skaters recorded at least one point.

“There were good contributions, through the lineup,” Sullivan said.

The Penguins certainly needed those, because a loss to the Red Wings in regulation would have dropped them nine points behind Detroit, which holds the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field. As it is, that gap is five.

“It was a four-point game,” Sullivan said. “(Winning) keeps us in the race.”

Here are some observations from the Penguins’ victory:

1. Success on Line Three

While all four lines played well, the No. 3 unit — featuring Lars Eller between Reilly Smith and Valtteri Puustinen — was particularly good.

Each of the line’s members chipped in with a goal and an assist, and none of them were on the ice for any of Detroit’s goals.

“Lars Eller’s line played extremely well,” Sullivan said.

That unit played well against the Rangers, too, and seems to be meshing nicely.

“We’re executing the passes when they’re there,” Eller said. “We’re making tape-to-tape passes and we’re moving. It’s like a give-and-go mentality all the time. The other two are always moving for the guy who has the puck, and we’ve got pretty good anticipation of what each other is doing.”

That includes Puustinen, who has a goal in each of the past two games and has a release that figures to help him score on a fairly regular basis as his career progresses.

“He wants to learn,” Smith said. “He’s like an empty-glass guy. He listens to everything you tell him, and he tries to implement it all the time. … When he gets an opportunity, it seems like they’re always going into the back of the net. We’re fortunate to be able to play with a guy like that.”

2. Hey, I know you

Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 25 of 28 shots to earn the victory against the team for which he played the past two seasons.

It didn’t hurt that he has a pretty good feel for the strengths and preferences of Detroit’s shooters, although those guys are equally familiar with the strengths and flaws in his game.

“It goes both ways,” Nedeljkovic said. “If you’re thinking about it, I don’t think it helps you at all, on both sides.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that he was aware of what to expect from most of Detroit’s shooters.

“I think I’ve got the book on most of them,” Nedeljkovic said “But a couple of them got by tonight.”

3. Crosby’s slump ends

Sidney Crosby’s goal at 18:58 of the opening period was his first in 12 games, snapping the second-longest dry spell of his career.

That drought wasn’t so long, though, that Crosby forgot the whole raise-your-arms celebration thing that follows a goal.

Not for long, anyway.

“It came to me,” he said, smiling. “It had been a while. It was nice to see it go in. Hopefully, some more will start to go in. There are some huge games coming up, and it would be nice to start seeing some more go into the net.”

His extended slump didn’t prevent Crosby from maintaining a strong lead in the team goal-scoring race. He has 33; linemate Bryan Rust ranks second among current members of the team with 20.

4. What were they watching?

Red Wings goalie Alex Lyon made a nice stop on a Crosby backhander at 8:38 of the second period.

That save never should have been necessary, though, because the puck clearly had gone into the netting in the Penguins’ defensive zone before play moved to the other end of the ice.

At least one Red Wings player immediately gestured that it had happened — and replays confirmed that what had seemed obvious was not an optical illusion — but none of the officials appeared to notice it.

And while a goal then presumably would have been waved off after the sequence was subjected to a video review — “presumably” might be the key term there — the officials’ oversight never was corrected, because the faceoff that followed Lyon’s stop on Crosby took place in the Detroit end, not that of the Penguins, as it would have been if the referees and linesmen hadn’t been oblivious to what happened.

5. Blue-collar Bunting

Michael Bunting isn’t going to be confused with Jake Guentzel. Never has been, never will be.

But Bunting, the headliner in the Penguins’ return from Carolina in the trade that sent Guentzel to the Hurricanes, is effective because he goes about his job with a blue-collar work ethic and some pretty fair skill.

He doesn’t just venture into the high-traffic areas; he thrives in them.

“He gets a lot of those goals that are blue-paint goals,” Sullivan said.

The Penguins’ fourth goal was one of those, as Bunting lunged to swipe in a loose puck from the front of the net.

Although Bunting doesn’t have Guentzel’s gifts for goal-scoring, he is not devoid of offensive ability and instincts. Fuse those traits with his grit and eagerness to compete, and it’s a formidable combination.

6. Not easy being green

The security tag attached to bags after they were cleared to enter PPG Paints Arena for the game Sunday were green, which presumably was a nod to St. Patrick’s Day.

Closer inspection, however, revealed that the printing on the tag read “ROUND 2, GAME 4.”

Given the Penguins’ precarious place in the Eastern playoff race, it could be that someone made an executive decision to use them because the team isn’t likely to need any such thing for a second-round game this spring.

Or maybe not.

security tag 3/17/24