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Free Fall: Vegas, Phil Kessel Burn Penguins 5-2; Pens Skid Worsens



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Phil Kessel, Vegas Golden Knights

LAS VEGAS — Phil Kessel looked like the 2016 playoffs when he powered the HBK line with Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup. However, Kessel now plays for the Vegas Golden Knights (27-12-2), and he burned the Pittsburgh Penguins (19-13-6) less than two minutes into the game.

Vegas beat the Penguins 5-2 at T-Mobile Arena Thursday.

Less than two minutes into the game, Phil Kessel was uncovered as Vegas raced past the Penguins’ defensive posture at center ice. Despite the Penguins’ superior numbers back, Vegas outnumber the Penguins in front of the net. Kessel (7) had an easy tap-in.

Later in the third period, Kessel raced the length of the ice for a two-on-one. He slipped the puck to Paul Cotter (5), who easily whipped the shot into an open net. That capped the scoring.

Things started poorly and didn’t improve nearly enough for the Penguins. Later in the first period, winger Jake Guentzel outraced Vegas Golden Knights defenders to a puck in the offensive zone, gained possession, then lost his footing and slid away.

Perhaps that was the microcosm of the Penguins. Even when they pushed for most of the second period, they had nothing to show for it.

Trailing 4-0 early in the third period, Ty Smith (1) scored his first Penguins goal as the late trailer in a three-on-two break. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel earned the helpers.

That was the beginning and end of the Penguins’ ink on the scoresheet.

The Penguins, who have fumbled away third period leads several times over the past 10 games, never got the chance Thursday. Vegas scored a few first-period goals and controlled the early game.

A few minutes after Kessel scored, Vegas deepened the hole when Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson pinched in the offensive zone. Pettersson quickly lost the puck battle, and Vegas, one of the NHL leaders in odd-man rushes, had a two-on-one.

Jack Eichel (14) was the lucky recipient of acres of open ice and beat Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith for a 2-0 lead.

Chandler Stephenson scored a power-play goal midway through the first period for a 3-0 lead.

The Penguins dominated the territory in the second period but didn’t get many second chances or beat Vegas backup goalie Adin Hill. The Penguins ripped 20 shots on net in the second period and appeared significantly more energetic and organized, but Vegas scored the only goal of the second period.

With less than 10 seconds remaining in the second, Mark Stone deflected Braden McNabb’s shot. DeSmith couldn’t grab it as the puck hit him and dribbled across the goal line for a 4-0 lead.

DeSmith was thrust into duty as the Penguins’ starting goalie for the foreseeable future because starter Tristan Jarry suffered a lower-body injury Monday at the Winter Classic, stopping 21 of the first 25 shots.

Ty Smith and Brian Dumoulin led the Penguins in ice time. Smith played nearly 17 minutes in the first two periods. Dumoulin played nearly 15.

No player had more than three shots in the first two periods, but Eichel had three points (1-2-3).

The Penguins’ power play showed signs of life with Smith at the helm. They had two shots on goal on their first chance, and Evgeni Malkin hit the post. They had two more shots on their second opportunity in the third period, and a bouncing puck that would have been a sure goal eluded the desperate Jake Guentzel.

Guentzel hasn’t scored a goal in eight games.

After the second period, 13 Penguins were a minus-1. Marcus Pettersson was a minus-2 and finished minus-3. The Evgeni Malkin line with Jason Zucker and Rickard Rakell was a minus-2.

Sidney Crosby (20) scored a late goal in the final 90 seconds. It is the 15th time in his career he reached that milestone. Only 24 other players in NHL history have done the same.

Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.