It wasn’t exactly George Washington’s troops crossing the Delaware, but the tired, beat-up Penguins produced a tactically near-perfect effort Thursday to beat the Minnesota Wild, 2-1. It was as simple as it was stunning.
The Penguins could be forgiven for having soft legs Thursday. In the second of back-to-backs and after an emotionally and physically bruising win over the Washington Capitals, but the Penguins stripped away all layers of their game. They bought-in to a greasy hockey gameplan and executed it for 60 minutes.
The Penguins had every excuse to lose but instead of wasting a game which was the classic blowoff, the Penguins earned the win. They were disciplined. Patient. They eschewed the sloppiness which has dogged them in favor of simplicity. It wasn’t pretty hockey.
The Pittsburgh Penguins played boring, dull hockey to win and did so without nary a complaint or few breaks of script. It was winning hockey.
That isn’t always praise in Pittsburgh. It is now. The Penguins did what it took to win.
“We’ve played a lot of games here, and we knew they were going to come out hard. They’re a team that plays structured. I thought we matched that well, tonight,” said the Thursday night hero, Bryan Rust.
Rust has eight goals in his last six games, including both goals Thursday.
“It’s important for us to establish a comfort level in one-goal games. That for me is an indication of good teams,” said Mike Sullivan.
It was chip-and-chase from the beginning. In the first period, the Penguins were winning the battles to the puck and creating scoring chances. By the end of the second period, the Penguins were gassed. They looked spent like a minor league team on Sunday afternoon at the end of a three-games-in-three-days road trip.
Credit the Penguins for sticking to the plan. Except for a few boo-boos by Olli Maatta and Juuso Riikola in the second period, the Penguins limited Minnesota’s chances. But eventually, a team must create chances to win.
Jake Guentzel provided that spark in the third period. With a backdoor forecheck and takeaway, then tape-to-tape pass to Rust, Guentzel set the Penguins in motion.
The energy level rose tenfold.
PHN asked head coach Mike Sullivan is the back-to-back clean wins paying structured hockey carried extra significance. After a long pause, he initially downplayed it before indicating, yes, just maybe they did.
“I don’t know if they’re more significant. It’s nice to string a few wins in a row against some pretty good teams,” he offered. “But most importantly for me, is I think we’re getting better. We’re getting better as a team.”
In the middle of the second period, Sullivan grew tired of the Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel pairing. For a good reason: Zero even strength shots.