Jake Guentzel played in his first game since Dec. 6. Bryan Rust has played only 12 previous games this season and not since Nov. 24. Evan Rodrigues just exited the NHL COVID protocol on Saturday, and Kasper Bjorkqvist played in his first NHL game. They all scored in the first period, Rodrigues and Rust twice, as the San Jose Sharks needed a bigger boat.
The Penguins scored six goals in the first period, including four in the first six minutes. However, the Penguins squandered a 6-1 lead and a laugher became a nail-biter. San Jose scored four unanswered goals, including three in the first four minutes of the third period. But Evan Rodrigues completed his first-career hat trick with a late power-play goal and the Penguins breathed easier with a 8-5 win.
The poor folks at the Milkshake Factory who give half-off the Jake Shake for every game Guentzel scores a goal may need to rethink their marketing strategy soon. Side note: for those who didn’t gain 15 pounds in the last few weeks or those who don’t care, the chocolate rush from the shake would have put Pablo Escobar out of business.
Rodrigues began the onslaught one minute into the game. Marcus Petterson used the wall for a long outlet pass to spring Rodrigues on a two-on-one. Rodrigues toe-dragged the puck into the slot, held it for another heartbeat, and let rip. Rodrigues (11) hit the top shelf twine on the pretty wrister.
Two minutes later, Guentzel scored in the 14th consecutive game he played and a goal in his fifth consecutive game. Rust’s centering pass missed Sidney Crosby at the front of the net, but Guentzel (16) stepped into it from the LW circle, and San Jose goalie James Reimer didn’t get to the post in time.
One minute after the Penguins earned a 2-0 lead, it became 3-0 as Rodrigues scored again. Rodrigues (12) slipped behind the San Jose defense and put the backhand deke on Reimer. He had never before scored more than nine goals in an NHL season.
Capping off the first wave of the furious outburst, Bryan Rust scored his first goal of the game, six minutes into the first period. Kris Letang’s shot was blocked, but Rust (3) snared the bouncing puck and beat Reimer from the slot.
Four goals on their first six shots.
But the onslaught didn’t stop, either.
Later in the first period, Kasper Bjorkqvist scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Activated from the Taxi Squad before the game, which fellow WBS Penguins Radim Zohorna Anthony Angello and Louis Domingue, Bjorkqvist (1) planted himself in front of the net and poked a rebound through Reimer.
Rust scored his second goal with just 28 seconds remaining in the first period. Rust (4) kept the puck alive at the blue line, and his turning wrist shot deflected off one defender and bounced over Reimer’s pad.
The Penguins zipped 17 shots at Reimer in the first period. Though just eight in the second period.
But the game was essentially decided by the time Sharks coach and former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Bob Boughner pulled Reimer for Zach Sawchenko to begin the second period. Sawchenko looked like Sawchuk with a couple of beauty glove saves. First on Drew O’Connor, then later in the second, he denied Rodrigues the hat trick.
San Jose scored one goal later in the first period and one goal later in the second.
Alexander Barbanov (5) had an open rebound attempt late in the first.
Defenseman Brent Burns scored a rare power-play goal against the Penguins later in the second when his point-blast sneaked through traffic and Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith.
San Jose Rally
DeSmith helped the Sharks make it interesting. Seconds into the third period, DeSmith misplayed a carom off the end wall. The puck trickled across the goal line. Matt Nieto (9) was credited with the goal.
A couple of minutes after San Jose closed to within three goals, they chopped the lead to two. Erik Karlsson’s point shot beat DeSmith to the far post. 6-4.
After Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called timeout, San Jose tightened everyone’s sticks. Before fans could bolt settle into their seats for the third period, or bolt for their cars to beat traffic, San Jose center Logan Couture (12) was left alone in front of the net and quickly snapped a one-timer past DeSmith. 6-5 with 15:51 remaining.
However, the Penguins regained their footing and blitzed San Jose for several high-danger scoring chances in the latter third period. Brock McGinn hit his second post of the game, Sawchenko got just a piece of Dominik Simon’s shot and it wobbled through the crease but wide. Zach Aston-Reese split two defenders and Sawchenko got just enough of the puck so it too trickled just wide.
Nieto took a hooking call in the final three minutes to end the San Jose Sharks attack.
Rodrigues. Power play goal. 7-5.
Bryan Rust completed the hat trick with an empty netter. 8-5. Whew.