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Penguins Grades: Young Legs & Goaltending Shine, Pens Capable of ‘Better’



Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis, Drew O'Connor

The Pittsburgh Penguins scored a power-play goal as the front end of two goals in 21 seconds. The outburst erased an otherwise ordinary, bordering on lackluster Penguins performance as they beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins also got some playoff help as the New York Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils, and the St. Louis Blues beat the New York Islanders. The Penguins are seven points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second wild card with four games in hand, though New Jersey, New York, and the Washington Capitals are between them and Tampa.

Following Penguins’ president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas’s stated desire to get younger, the team was sparked by a player not old enough to rent a car without paying extra. After slumbering through nearly the entire first period, the Penguins attacked with ferocity in the middle of the second period.

Young legs spurred the Penguins.

Drew O’Connor had a goal and an assist.

Valterri Puustinen had a strong shift in the second period, swarming both the puck and the net before chipping paint with a wrist shot off the crossbar. The shift was a catalyst that launched the Penguins to two rapid-fire goals and two points. The hometown scorers took away a shot from Puustinen, who was originally listed with four and tied for the team lead with Erik Karlsson. Regardless, Puustinen was a significant factor.

Core defenseman Kris Letang had two goals, but it was the kids who picked up the team.

After Puustinen’s big shift, disconnects and misconnects became tape-to-tape passes.

The lumbering Penguins were suddenly on their toes. Evgeni Malkin doggedly forechecked. Erik Karlsson breezed past defenders into the offensive zone.

After Bryan Rust scored a power-play goal with a net-front deflection, Karlsson cleared space at the top of the zone for 25-year-old O’Connor, who took the space and a bit more, beating Montreal goalie Cayden Primeau with a nasty wrister from the left hash marks.

Puustinen provided the jumpstart. O’Connor added the backbreaking goal in the Penguins’ second-period outburst.

However, not all was well with the Penguins’ game.

“I think we played well enough to win. I know we’re capable of playing a better game,” coach Mike Sullivan conceded. “We played well enough to win. The power play got an important goal for us. Hopefully that’ll help those guys moving forward. The good thing for our group is that we’re getting — the last couple of games — we’re getting contributions offensively throughout our lineup.”

Penguins Analysis

Tristan Jarry.

For all of the praise above, the Penguins game featured plenty of mistakes and Montreal slipping an extra stick into the play, especially in the scoring areas.

Jarry was brilliant. He easily won the goaltending battle against Primeau.

The number of dangerous chances near the Penguins’ net was far too many. Jeff Carter cleared a couple of loose pucks from the blue paint. Had he not been there to expunge the errors of his mates, the game may have been quite different.

“I think the guys did a great job. Obviously, when the pucks are staying in tight, you need a lot of help from everyone, and I think the defense did a great job,” Jarry said. “There was Jeff (Carter) back there a couple of times for me. I think the guys just did a great job getting to pucks first before they did.”

The Penguins’ first-period turnover parade was just short of the marbles in the Faber College homecoming. Kris Letang’s ghastly turnover led directly to Montreal’s tying goal. There was no shortage of cross-ice passes along the offensive and defensive blue lines that went to the Bleu Blanc et Rouge instead of black and gold.

Take a look at the heat map from That dark blue blob on the Canadiens’ side is the heavy concentration of low shots against the Penguins. Not good.

Pittsburgh Penguins game vs. Montreal Canadiens


Jarry was the difference. He not only made the initial stops but also controlled the rebounds, denying Montreal second chances and allowing the Penguins to control the puck afterward.

What the Penguins did well was forecheck–at least in the 10 minutes or so that they outplayed Montreal. Malkin was especially noticeable. He and O’Connor were dogged on the puck.

Penguins Grades

Team: B-

A classic “Played well enough to win” game.

Much like the game in Chicago, it felt like a better team could have really taken advantage of the Penguins’ puck mismanagement and turnovers. Perhaps Jarry would have stuffed a better team, too?

There were some good performances, and a few players, including Malkin, showed the necessary desperation. The Penguins’ predicament remains a headscratcher. They are and should be better than they are, but a win is a win. They get the Flyers on Sunday. Once again, that will be for all of the marbles, and Philly won’t bring the kid gloves.

Tristan Jarry: A+

Spectacular. Cole Caufield looked to the roof a few times. He had some very good looks, but Jarry denied the dynamic winger. Jarry stopped 30 of 31 and far too many clean rips.

“I thought he was terrific all night, especially early in the game. We didn’t have a good start. I thought he was terrific,” said Sullivan. “He’s put a solid body of work together all year long … I thought “Jarrs” was really good at key times during the game.”

Evgeni Malkin: A

I’m giving Malkin another A. He’s coming down to the end wall to defend. That’s not his best game, but he’s digging in to help. He’s also becoming an effective forechecker. He’s a big guy (6-foot-3), and when he bears down on a defenseman, he has a pretty wide wingspan. Montreal defensemen had trouble getting the puck out of the zone and several times did not because of Malkin’s pressure.

Malkin did the leg work to set up Kris Letang’s first-period goal with a forecheck, a steal, and a perfect pass.

Read More: Penguins Need Malkin to Change; Is He Thinking About the End?

Erik Karlsson: 

There’s EK65.

Texts from hockey folks began in the first period, “Look at Karlsson!” The defenseman was playing with the puck. He shot on the power play, setting up Bryan Rust’s deflection, and he established zone possession.

Valtteri Puustinen: A

He was like a waterbug Thursday, zipping around the offensive zone, jumping on loose pucks, and creating offensive possession. That’s the best of Puustinen. His second-period shift that launched the surge was obviously building to something. He had the hop and determination of someone about to score a goal, ultimately hitting the crossbar.

“I think he’s got another gear. (His increased speed) did show itself tonight on the forecheck,” said Sullivan. “He chased (down) a couple of defensemen, forced turnovers, and  I think that the step that he’s picked up is really evident in his overall game.”

Disappointing Performances

Matthew Phillips. He had the puck taken from him in the offensive zone at least three times. He was needlessly offside on what would have been an odd-man rush chance and otherwise didn’t play with the puck as effectively as he did against the Islanders.

Fourth Line. The line was pinned in their zone several times. Jarry mentioned Carter clearing the net, but a fourth line’s job is to defend, not panic-clear pucks. They were hanging on.

Third-Pair: Ryan Graves and Chad Ruhwedel were not so good, either. Graves has a terrible habit of swimming upstream away from the net, leaving crucial ice unguarded. The Canadiens went after both Graves and Ruhwedel, and neither really moved the puck effectively enough to alleviate the pressure. In fact, I’d grade them terribly on that facet of the game, too.