Even the ugly ones count. The Pittsburgh Penguins marked their seventh comeback win this season and ninth win overall with an otherwise sloppy game. The disjointed effort forced head coach Mike Sullivan to significantly juggle the lines and demote Kasperi Kapanen to the fourth line.
Kris Letang scored a pair of goals, including a power-play tally, and the Penguins won despite themselves 3-2 at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night.
The Pittsburgh Penguins certainly did not play their finest game in honor of captain Sidney Crosby and his 1000th game, but Tristan Jarry stopped 33 of 35 shots and was brilliant.
“It will be nice to get out of the building and…maybe have a glass in honor of his 1000th game,” Letang said of his friend.
The team appeared to be ceremony-lagged, and they clearly didn’t start at the same time as New York. After a full 20 minutes of nearly brutal hockey, Jarry kept the Penguins tied and the game scoreless. New York outshot the Penguins 16-4 in the first period and 35-18 overall.
“Tristan won us that game, hands down,” Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson said. “After the second period, it was 1-1 and we had no reason to be in that game. We didn’t play the way we should.”
The Penguins also had a pair of injury scares. Evgeni Malkin left the game in the first period but returned for the second period. In the middle of the second period, the Penguins’ lines were a jumbled mess as Jake Guentzel missed a few shifts, but he returned for the Penguins’ first power-play chance.
The Penguins converted that opportunity in the middle of the second period when Kris Letang (1) blasted a slap shot from the blue line cleanly past New York goalie Semyon Varlamov.
The Penguins lead was short. Three minutes later, P.O. Joseph and Mike Matheson were caught on the wrong end of a three-on-two after a Malkin turnover. Oddly, Joseph peeled off puck carrier Anthony Beauvillier. Penguins defensemen covered the backdoor pass, which left Jordan Eberle wide open at the front door.
Death. Taxes. Eberle scoring against the Penguins. Eberle (7) had an uncontested path to the net and deked Jarry for a tie game.
Death. Taxes. Eberle and Brock Nelson scoring against the Penguins.
Just 53 seconds into the third period, Jarry never saw Nelson’s (5) 30-foot wrist shot. New York led 2-1.
However, the Penguins’ blue line rode to the rescue. First, the red-hot Matheson tied the game midway through in the third period. Matheson (1) joined the rush and buried a top-corner wrister.
Teddy Blueger did the heavy lifting and earned the apple. Blueger is the Penguins’ fourth-leading scorer.
Later in the third period, Letang (2) struck again. After the newly constituted first line with Tanev won a couple of puck battles on the end wall, Crosby went low-to-high for Letang, who whipped another long shot past Varlamov for a 3-2 lead.
The story remained Crosby’s achievement.
“He’s our go-to guy, and this is a special night for him. It’s too bad there weren’t fans in the building to honor what a great effect he’s had on the game of hockey,” Mike Matheson said.
Blender Lines: Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has kept lines remarkably steady this season, not just his pairs but trios, too. On Saturday night, in part because of the short injury scares but also to find a spark. Sullivan but his lines in a blender.
“I was trying to find guys who were bringing it tonight, who were competing hard and give us the best chance to win,” Sullivan said.
Brandon Tanev began the third period on the Penguins’ top line RW with Jake Guentzel and Crosby. Sam Lafferty took the RW on the third line with Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese.
Kapanen was effectively demoted to the Penguins fourth line with Drew O’Connor and Mark Jankowski.
Black Eyes: The Pittsburgh Penguins honored captain Sidney Crosby in warmups and with an official ceremony for his 1000th game before the opening puck drop. So far, so good. The New York Islanders didn’t acknowledge the ceremony with even a small stick tap. To spite New York, the Penguins gave them the puck for the first 20 minutes.
New York outshot the Penguins 16-4 in the opening 20 minutes and 35-18 overall.
Both the New York snub and the Penguins siesta earn a No Bueno black eye.
Gold Star: Tristan Jarry was on his head, especially in the first 20 minutes. Pick a save—the scissor kick from nowhere. The breakaway save on Leo Komarov. And, Jarry stoned Beauvillier several times on Saturday, including a third-period one-timer.