Jeff Carter deflected Jansen Harkins’ hard pass from the left wall early in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins overwhelming advantage of Grade-A scoring chances in a tight game was finally decided by a fourth-line goal as the Penguins submitted one of their grittiest games of the season, beating the St. Louis Blues 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena Saturday.
Sidney Crosby scored the empty netter with 91 seconds remaining to seal a blue-collar win. It was Crosby’s 20th goal of the season.
The Penguins didn’t get as many shots on net as they could have in the first period, but their scoring chances were generally high danger. Reilly Smith had a pair of short breakaways, and Jake Guentzel had one. However, the Penguins’ goals had to be earned.
Later in the first period, Evgeni Malkin hopped around the defense on the left wall, setting up a two-on-one with Drew O’Connor (4), who slammed a one-timer into the top corner past St. Louis goalie Joel Hofer.
“I think (Reilly Smith) made a good play there on the wall to touch it ahead and get that to Geno,” O’Connor said. “(Malkin) in those situations, he’s really good with his patience and just waiting for that lane to open up, so he did a great job.”
The Penguins’ stars Malkin and Crosby dominated the second period, their lines drawing three power plays and the only goal of the period.
On the Penguins’ second power play chance, they erased a sloppy minute of zone time when Guentzel dished an easy tap-in to Malkin (14) on the back post.
For Malkin, who admitted on Friday that he’s eagerly chasing goal No. 500, that power-play tally was goal No. 485. Malkin had three shots in the second period as his signature gallop through center ice returned.
“I do think (Malkin’s) last couple of games, he’s played extremely well. He’s competing hard and — I love that about him — I just think he plays the game with so much fire,” said Sullivan. “Geno is a guy when his confidence is high, you can see it in his body language. And I feel like that’s where he’s at right now.”
With a bevy of scoring chances, including breakaways and point-blank shots at Hofer, the Penguins put St. Louis in a scrambling defensive mode for most of the second period but converted only once.
In the low-event first period, the Penguins were happy as the few events benefitted them. Winger Jake Guentzel hit the crossbar early in the first period, and the team got the opening goal late in the first.
The Penguins suffered a couple of defensive breakdowns in the first period, but Tristan Jarry stopped all eight shots he faced in the first. A couple more turnovers by Erik Karlsson delivered a pair of odd-man breaks, but Jarry stopped those, too.
However, St. Louis capitalized on a two-goal swing early in the second period. In the final minute of the first period, Penguins winger Valtteri Puustinen danced past St. Louis defenseman Brayden Schenn near the left circle. However, in the tangle, Puustinen lost control of his stick and clipped Schenn in the face just before he whipped a shot behind Hofer.
The goal was disallowed, and in the first minute of the second period, St. Louis earned a power play marker when Robert Thomas (15) converted a one-timer from the same left circle.
The Penguins peppered Hofer with 16 shots in the second period.
Jarry was stellar for the Penguins in the third, stopping a handful of great chances. However, former Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen (4) made the game tight when he deflected Scott Perunovich’s shot in the middle of the third period.
“I thought (our game) was good at times, though we gave them some chances off the rush,” said Guentzel. “They like to play off the rush, you’ve got to limit their chances that way. So Jarry made some big-time saves, and you know we held on. This wasn’t the best third (period), but we held on. So that’s what matters.”
Jarry stopped 25 of 27 but was relied upon heavily in the third period. Hofer stopped 26 of 29. (Editor’s note: the NHL amended the Blues’ shot total twice following the game. The final tally is 27 after being listed as 26 and 28).
The Penguins have won six of their last eight games and have points in seven.