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Penguins Spoil Guentzel’s Return, Beat Carolina, 4-1



The Pittsburgh Penguins have given themselves plenty of reasons to be disappointed this season, and their game against Carolina Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena joined the list.

Not, however, because of anything they did wrong against the Hurricanes, who are challenging for the top spot in the NHL’s overall standings.

No, the issue in the Penguins’ 4-1 victory actually was how well they performed, how they showed that they can compete with — and defeat — one of the best teams in the league when their game is in synch.

Which is something it hasn’t been nearly enough in 2023-24, as evidenced by the Penguins’ 31-30-10 record.

“We showed what we’re capable of,” said right winger Bryan Rust, who scored the game-winning goal.

This was Jake Guentzel’s first game here since he was dealt to the Hurricanes as the NHL’s trade deadline approached, and while the Penguins managed to keep him off the scoresheet — Guentzel had two goals and 10 assists in his previous eight games with his new club — he did manage to launch six shots at Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.

Nedeljkovic, who broke into the NHL with the Hurricanes, finished with 38 saves.

Sam Poulin and Jonathan Gruden, recalled from the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, were in the lineup. So was defenseman Ryan Graves, who missed the Penguins’ two-game road trip for personal reasons.

Defenseman John Ludvig, and forwards Emil Bemstrom and Jeff Carter were the scratches.

Michael Bunting, acquired from Carolina in the Guentzel trade, nearly helped the Penguins grab an early lead.

He threw a nice cross-ice pass to Evgeni Malkin, who was near the Hurricanes’ net, but Malkin was unable to beat goalie Pyotr Kochetkov.

Guentzel had his first impact on the game a bit less than two minutes later, when he knocked the puck away from Penguins winger Reilly Smith, who subsequently tripped Sebastian Aho at 3:54 after Guentzel got the puck to him.

The Hurricanes, who entered the game converting a league-best 32 percent of their chances with the man-advantage on the road, were unable to capitalize on this one.

The Penguins got their first chance with the extra man when Andrei Svechnikov was sent off for cross-checking Bunting at 13:30 but, like Carolina, failed to score.

That hardly was a surprise, since the Penguins’ power play had been shut out in eight of the previous 10 games and was 2-for-26 during that stretch.

Rust drew a hooking penalty at 17:25, as he stole the puck from Hurricanes defenseman Dmitry Orlov in the slot in Carolina’s zone, but the Penguins again could not generate a go-ahead goal.

Nonetheless, the Penguins were able to take a 1-0 lead at 2:41 of the second period.

Jesse Puljujarvi took a drop pass from Lars Eller and threw a shot past Kochetkov from just above and outside the right dot for his third of the season and second in two games.

Graves did not get an assist, but made the goal possible by setting an excellent screen in front of the Carolina net. Although Valtteri Puustinen received the second assist, he did not get a +1 plus-minus rating because he was on the bench by the time Puljujarvi scored.

Orlov beat Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to tie the game at 11:17, a few seconds after Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson was shaken up when Hurricanes center Jesperi Kotkaniemi fell on him near the right-wing corner in the Penguins’ end. Pettersson made a quick trip to the locker room, but returned to the game almost immediately.

Although Carolina dominated most of the period, Rust put the Penguins back in front at 18:09 by putting a shot past Kochetkov from just below the top of the left circle. The goal, Rust’s 23rd of the season and fifth in the past seven games, was set up by Sidney Crosby’s clean faceoff win against Jack Drury.

Malkin took an ill-considered tripping penalty at 7:18, but the Penguins combined efficient penalty-killing with a few quality stops by Nedeljkovic to make it through unscathed.

Drew O’Connor made it 3-1 at 18:04, tucking a shot into an empty net after his initial attempt to score caromed off the left post. Crosby assisted on the goal, O’Connor’s 11th.

Crosby added another empty-netter with 22.4 seconds to play, giving him seven points in the past two games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to practice Wednesday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.