The Pittsburgh Penguins responded well to a dirty hit, scoring two power-play goals as a retort. The Penguins largely remained structured and patient and showed they are indeed capable of playing to their better instincts, shutting out one of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets, 3-0.
It was Tristan Jarry’s league-leading sixth shutout.
In coach Mike Sullivan’s 800th game behind an NHL bench and Jake Guentzel’s 500th NHL game played, the Penguins and Winnipeg eased into the end of their bye-week festivities.
However, by the middle of the second period, the game was largely decided. The Penguins responded not with petty retaliation but with two power-play goals on a resulting major penalty from Winnipeg defenseman Brenden Dillon’s dirty hit on Noel Acciari.
Rather than starting a five-alarm fire and a brawl, the Penguins took a deep breath and focused on the power play. They potted a pair of goals on the resulting major penalty, and the game was essentially decided.
“The goal initially was to put some pucks in on that power play, and we did,” winger Bryan Rust said. “So that was huge for our team.”
Dillon also received a match penalty.
The league automatically reviews match penalties. If Dillon doesn’t receive significant supplemental discipline for this one, there’s little point for a Department of Player Safety to exist. Dillon lined up a vulnerable player and made direct contact with the head. It was very avoidable.
Acciari has been an integral part of the Penguins’ penalty kill this season. When he was out of the lineup in the first three weeks of December, the penalty kill slumped greatly, killing only 71.4% of the chances against (opponents were eight-for-27).
Not to be glossed over was the Penguins’ response. They refocused, and their struggling power play units came through. Jeff Carter scored from the top of the crease. Rust scored from the side of the crease.
I’m a believer in one of two. You must score or make them share the blood. The goals cooled the temperature quickly.
And the game was largely over. Perhaps the Penguins’ visit to Winnipeg this Saturday may have a little more spice than previously anticipated.
The game lacked the heat of a divisional rivalry or a battle amongst teams fighting for a playoff spot. Being the first game in about 10 days could have presented problems.
To the Penguins’ credit, they remained structured, patient and poised. There were always layers through the neutral zone. Noticeably absent were odd-man rushes against, though there were significant blunders in the defensive zone. Each of the Penguins’ three d-pairs had “Oh boy” moments. With Ryan Graves and Erik Karlsson, there were more than a few boo-boos and faux paus. With P.O Joseph, there were some real puck management issues.
However, the Penguins had a “fixer” Tuesday. Jarry was excellent. He stopped a handful of point-blank chances, a few in the first period and a few more early in the third. His work preserved the Penguins’ 1-0 and 3-0 leads.
The saves weren’t spectacular lunging saves; instead, Jarry played “big,” filling the net and taking away angles on those scoring chances. He also stuffed Adam Lowry’s short breakaway.
“I thought he was solid. In the third period, in particular … I thought he made some sneaky good saves,” said Sullivan. “There were a couple of slot deflections that he gobbled up. When Tristan is at his best … he makes a lot of difficult saves look routine.”
His 10-bell saves also kept the game cool. The Jets had moments of momentum, but they never had sustained momentum.
The advanced stats showed a heavy advantage for the Winnipeg Jets, but the Penguins’ three-goal lead aided that.
The Penguins forecheck was also well structured. It was perhaps the best feature of their game. The third line with Lars Eller, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Rickard Rakell created loose pucks and offensive zone time. Of course, the Sidney Crosby line created scoring chances from the defensive zone out and on the forecheck, and the fourth line was playing in the offensive zone until Accairi was knocked out of the game by a dirty hit from Brenden Dillon.
Three of the four Penguins’ lines played well and, specifically, filled their roles. One line was too often the culprit for scoring chances against and fumbling D-zone coverage.
Penguins Report Card
It wasn’t the Pittsburgh Penguins’ best. The energy level was slightly suppressed, but the execution was pretty good, at least structurally. The puck management issues were notable, as were the wandering defensemen, but Winnipeg had a few of those gaffes, too.
“It wasn’t perfect. Obviously, it’s a game after the break, there’s a little bit of the rust, and the execution might not be at the highest level,” Kris Letang said. “The details of our game … The way we play with energy every (game), to try to apply pressure and have a good start, that’s something we should do.”
And they did.
Winnipeg is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and the Penguins resoundingly beat them.
Four scoring chances for, none against. One goal for–set up by a good Puljujarvi forecheck–none against. And they have five shots for and just one against. Not a bad night’s work. Puljujarvi drew some praise from Sullivan. He earned it.
“He’s jumping on a moving train, so to speak. With all of the work that he’s put in to get himself to this point when you get into the first NHL game, I think the pace of play is another level than what he saw in the American League… ” Sullivan said. “I thought he was good on the forecheck. He’s a rangy guy. He just takes up a lot of space … I thought he hunted pucks in the offensive zone. He was part of that goal we scored. I thought he had a good game for his first game.”
I’d like to see Puljujarvi play inside the dots more, but if he can create turnovers on the forecheck and be solid on the wall like he was on Tuesday, he’ll be an asset. He clearly eased into the game, taking several short shifts in the first period. It’s important to set proper expectations. He’s not a 20-goal scorer and not a dynamic offensive player, but the Penguins have enough of those. They need consistently good work in the ugly areas. A good first game.
Erik Karlsson, P.O Joseph, Ryan Graves: D
I didn’t like any of their games. Karlsson vacated his side of the ice, yielding a couple of Grade A scoring chances. The Graves-Karlsson pair fumbled the breakouts a few times.
Joseph also had an issue delivering the puck to the wrong team. He was shaky, which was probably a bad time to have a rough go because John Ludvig was activated from the injured list Tuesday.
It’s just a treat to watch these guys play. There’s no need to critique or analyze. Every game. Every period. This line transitions well from the defensive zone, creates turnovers on the forecheck, and generates pressure near the net.
They were well underwater in all statistical categories, except goals, in which they posted a 0-0 mark. The botched breakouts, defensive zone whoopsies, and lack of scoring chances compared to what they allowed remain a cause for concern.
The line picked up where it left off when Reilly Smith left the lineup on Jan. 11. That’s not a good thing.
Tristan Jarry: A+
Six shutouts. He not only preserved his team’s lead, but he also held the opponent’s momentum to a low roar by absorbing pucks. His rebound control was outstanding.