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Penguins Six-Pack: Letang’s Redemption; Roughing it With Pettersson



Tristan Jarry Kris Letang

When they are at their best, the Pittsburgh Penguins can beat any team in the NHL.

And when they are not, they still seem to be able to defeat Montreal.

This season, anyway.

Despite a rather uneven performance, the Penguins completed a sweep of the season series with the Canadiens with a 4-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena Thursday.

It is just the third time in franchise history that the Penguins have won every game against Montreal in a season.

Goalie Tristan Jarry, who faced the first five shots in the game and finished with 30 saves, was probably their best player, although he was named only the No. 3 star.

“He was terrific all night,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “Especially early in the game.”

The victory was just the Penguins’ second in their past seven games, and slowed their plunge out of playoff contention.

“It’s kind of a weight off our shoulders,” winger Drew O’Connor said. “To get a win is huge.”

So was, for the second game in a row, getting goals from guys who aren’t members of Sidney Crosby’s line.

On this night, offensive balance came in the form of two goals by defenseman Kris Letang and one from O’Connor.

“That’s a really important aspect of us moving forward, if we want to win games consistently,” Sullivan said. “That’s real encouraging.”

1. Letang bounces back

Letang scored the Penguins’ first and fourth goals — his 17th career multiple-goal game — and was recognized as the game’s No. 1 star.

It didn’t always seem like he would have such an enjoyable and productive evening, however, because Letang made the pass that led directly to the first goal of the game.

The one scored by Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson.

Letang got the puck in the right circle in the Penguins’ end and threw a diagonal pass in the general direction of Crosby, who was about 15 feet inside the blue line. The pass went behind Crosby’s back and directly to Matheson, who beat Jarry through a screen set by former Penguins forward Tanner Pearson.

“It’s one of those plays (where) you read something, and you’re kind of the only one reading it,” Letang said. “When you make a play in the middle like that, you have to be 100 percent sure. I was glad I got that goal back.”

Redemption came quickly for him, as Letang scored the first of his goals just two minutes and 19 seconds after Matheson staked Montreal to its 1-0 lead.

2. Where is O’Connor’s ceiling?

O’Connor scored a goal worthy of a top-six forward — a niche he has filled lately — at 11:51 of the second period, as he beat Canadiens goalie Cayden Primeau with a wrist shot from above the left hash mark.

“That was an unbelievable shot on his goal,” said Bryan Rust, who scored the Penguins’ game-winner.

O’Connor’s goal was his eighth of the season and second in two games after he had gone 10 without scoring.

“Through the season, I’ve been a little bit streaky,” he said. “I’m just trying to find that more consistently. When I have that part of my game going, I feel a little more stress off my shoulders. I just play a little more free.”

Despite that offensive inconsistency, O’Connor’s overall game has been on a steady, upward trajectory. He’s on the second line now because Jake Guentzel is injured and Reilly Smith has been ineffective, but Sullivan believes he has top-six talent.

“I think he has the ability to play in the top-six, because he skates as well as he does and he brings a certain size,” Sullivan said. “He’s great on the forecheck, he’s good with the puck-pursuit game, he can force turnovers and he can go to the net. He’s shown the ability to score some goals.

“He has some finish to him. Hopefully, that will continue to get better. If he continues to grow and develop in that regard, I think he undoubtedly could play in the top-six. But I think he’s a guy we could play all around the lineup, depending on what the roster looks like.”

3. Pettersson picks his spots

Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson is far from one of the league’s heavyweights — he checks in at 177 pounds — but you wouldn’t know it from the company he keeps.

Or, more to the point, seeks out.

Although he doesn’t fight very often, during the past two seasons Pettersson has traded punches with two of the NHL’s toughest forwards, Nicolas Deslauriers of Philadelphia and Washington’s Tom Wilson. Thursday, he didn’t hesitate to go after rugged Canadiens winger Josh Anderson, who weighs 46 pounds more than Pettersson, after Anderson bumped into Jarry during the third period.

Although that contact appeared to be unintentional, Pettersson wanted to make it known that his goaltender was not fair game.

“The play was stopped,” Pettersson said. “I didn’t want to take a penalty early on, if I cross-checked him too hard. It’s just what the situation calls for.”

His point was made, without a single punch being thrown this time, and he and Anderson served matching roughing minors.

4. Message received

The Thursday night deal to acquire winger Emil Bemstrom from Columbus notwithstanding, Kyle Dubas has made it clear to his players — publicly and privately — that he will give them as much time as possible before the March 8 trade deadline to establish that they’re a playoff-worthy team.

If they succeed, it seems like there’s a good chance that the roster will remain largely intact. If not, Dubas figures to entertain offers for a lot of the guys on his payroll.

“The ball’s in our court,” Rust said. “We have to prove that we’re worth taking a chance on. And that’s what we’re looking to do.”

5. Hey, that actually works

The Penguins did a couple of unusual things on the first of their two power plays.

First, Erik Karlsson shot a puck toward the Montreal net at the earliest opportunity.

Then, Rust deflected that puck past Primeau for — get this — a power-play goal.

Turns out the Penguins are allowed to score when they have a man-advantage, after all.

And that one of the best ways to do that is to get pucks and bodies to the other club’s net anytime the situation allows.

6. New team, old role

Colin White, who Montreal claimed off waivers from the Penguins Thursday afternoon, made his Canadiens debut a few hours after joining their roster.

He centered Montreal’s fourth line and logged 11 minutes, 11 seconds of ice time, second-lowest total on the team.

White finished with one shot, one hit and a 2-4 record on faceoffs.

Although he was on the ice for the Canadiens’ goal, he did not earn a point, so he does not have any goals or assists in 12 NHL appearances this season.