The Pittsburgh Penguins had chances. But they again made a goaltender with less than an elite statistics look like Vezina Trophy winner as they worked and fought for a 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
Credit the Penguins commitment, Monday night. The team defense concept was without error. The Islanders had to work as hard for their scoring chances as they made the Penguins work for theirs. In the end, the Penguins desire to win the game was evident as role players Bryan Rust and Zach Aston-Reese were a brick wall at the top of the zone on the overtime penalty kill.
“That was a huge kill in overtime. Obviously, that’s the difference in the game,” said Sullivan. “There was some blocked shots by (Aston-Reese), by (Rust). Jack Johnson did a terrific job.”
Yes, they did. Johnson will never wow anyone with his play in the offensive zone, but if you watch closely his play in the defensive zone saves more goals than he could ever score.
The Penguins also won the battle in the third period, too. After two offensively inept periods for every line but the Penguins top line with Guentzel-Crosby-Kessel, the Penguins shuffled the deck. Derick Brassard joined the top line on the left wing and Kessel was reunited with Evgeni Malkin on the second line. The Penguins generated 10 scoring chances in the third period.
And Brassard (4) scored the Penguins lone goal. Brassard was miles better as the top line left wing than he was as the third line center with Aston-Reese and Rust. Call it atonement for a costly giveaway at his own blueline in the second period which resulted in the Islanders lone goal.
Both teams executed as they wanted. Good forechecks. Neutral zone pressure. The Penguins applied tight pressure to the puck in the defensive zone while the Islanders reverted to packing the zone and letting the Penguins try to get pucks through.
Each had to earn their space.
In the first two periods, without Patric Hornqvist or Dominik Simon, the Penguins were clearly not going to score unless the top line with Crosby got the goal. Kessel had five shots in the first two periods. He finished with seven overall.
Penguins Report Card
Phil Kessel: A