Oh the hockey gods were having some fun Tuesday. The game began with a Sidney Crosby turnover in front of his own net, and the surprises were only beginning. The Pittsburgh Penguins broke their team-record 0-for-37 power-play drought. Jeff Carter scored on a shorthanded breakaway, and yet the Penguins were merely tied 2-2 with the Arizona Coyotes after two periods.
What should have been gargantuan momentum swings and a double dose of feel-good were instead drowned in a game full of sloppy penalties and volleying special teams.
To underscore the game decided by surprises, Carter scored the winning goal — his second of the game and the second Penguins power-play goal — with a net-front tip. The Penguins survived the low-energy game and did enough to beat the Coyotes 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena.
Get the Penguins game recap here.
“I mean, it’s nice to relax a little bit (by scoring on the power play), but I think for us — we’ve just got to gain some momentum and keep going from this,” said Jake Guentzel, who scored the first power-play goal at 1:12 of the first period. “It’s just one game. So, you know, we got to build on this.”
The Penguins took six minor penalties. Arizona five. Only the tripping call to Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry, who poke-checked a puck, was dubious.
Carter scored his second and third goals of the year. Hey, we told you Friday, and coach Mike Sullivan agreed that he’s been playing much better since getting back in the lineup. PHN wasn’t carrying water but shooting straight.
The Penguins first power-play goal also carried another little statistical anomaly. Rookie Valtteri Puustinen had the secondary assist, making him the first Penguins player since Evgeni Malkin to score in his first three NHL games.
The Penguins fired 44 shots at Arizona goalie Connor Ingram, yet it was not a high-event game. Of note, Vinnie Hinostroza had six (6?!) shots. Drew O’Connor had five, but Jake Guentzel led the team with seven.
However, after 50 minutes, NaturalStatTrick.com showed the 5v5 high-danger chances only slightly tilting to the Penguins with a suppressed 11-9 total. Twice, the Penguins had Arizona goalie Connor Ingram sprawled on the ice and out of the play, but twice were unable to get the puck through the mass of bodies filling the blue paint.
The Penguins outshot Arizona 14-7 in the first period and 18-9 in the second. Yet, it wasn’t until later in the second period the Penguins finally found their sea legs.
For most of the first 40 minutes, the game was neither clean nor crisp. It had a sloppy feel, and neither team was able to pin the other in the defensive zone. It felt more like the classic out-of-conference game on a Tuesday rather than a game the Penguins needed to win.
There were far too many penalties. Both sides set up an express lane to the penalty box.
Later in the second period, the Penguins began to transition to the rush. Coach Mike Sullivan slipped Evgeni Malkin on the ice with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Malkin’s energy level steadily increased, as well.
The Penguins doubled their defensive efforts to create the transitions. They jumped the defensemen at the blue line and blocked passes and shots with an immediate spring to offense.
The team held a defensive structure in the third. Arizona had just two shots in the first 15 minutes of the third. It’s not that the Penguins dominated, but they held their position.
Penguins Power Play
“I thought (the power play) looked pretty good tonight. They were making good decisions. There was pretty good execution,” Sullivan said. “It’s a little bit of a different scheme than we’ve had all year and these guys have been working at it for the last few days. I think they believe in it.”
The twist was making plays from down low instead of quarterbacking it from the top of the zone. By getting the puck low and holding it, they forced the Arizona PK to turn and defend. As soon as the PK must turn, they can’t see what’s behind them–defenders have to worry about Sidney Crosby in dangerous areas. It’s easier to get guys to the net because the attention is on the puck.
They were able to get shots, and nothing breaks down a PK faster than shots.
The Penguins were two-for-five and generated seven shots (in fairness, one chance was only four seconds). A couple of the chances were so mundane it was hard to know it was a power play. So, coaches kept tinkering with the personnel.
On the fateful power play, Carter remained on the ice for nearly the full two minutes because he took the net front spot for Puustinen.
Puustinen has a little spark and some playmaking ability. He doesn’t let the puck stop and doesn’t play it too quickly. However, he’s small. Carter won’t make the same plays and doesn’t have the same energy, but his net-front tip is what he brings.
“I think the big thing tonight was — if you look at it — we were simplifying, and we were shooting pucks,” Carter said. “When things aren’t going your way, you tend to force plays and throw pucks into the sh*t, and that usually doesn’t work well. If you simplify and you shoot, and you go to the net, good things (happen).”
Penguins Report Card
Considering the times they’ve played well but lost, winning a game that was a bit of a slog is a step forward. Scoring two power-play goals and doing it the right way is a huge leap forward. Both power-play goals, Jake Guentzel’s and Jeff Carter’s, were within feet of the net.
The Penguins stepped back into their defensive structure several times, but not enough for this writer’s liking. The game was vanilla, and the team could have squashed Arizona–but again, they did enough. Count it.
Power Play: A
It doesn’t matter if a couple of the opportunities were stale.
Notice the few different iterations, too. Puustinen was on the top unit for a few chances. Kris Letang returned to the top unit with Erik Karlsson in the third. And Jeff Carter joined PP1, too.
Get the puck low. Work it from the bottom up, not the top down. When the Penguins put the puck on Sidney Crosby’s stick below the goal line, there isn’t a defenseman alive who doesn’t tense up just a bit. The puck movement was good, and most vitally, the movement was with intent.
Valtteri Puustinen: A
We’re grading on the curve for a rookie. I just like the kid. He’s got a little spunk. He’s a little off-kilter defensively, but it’s not a lack of effort. He’s got some hops and confidence. He has three assists in three NHL games. He’s made a significant difference on Malkin’s line, though he’s still earning the coach’s trust. He played less than 12 minutes Tuesday.
P.O Joseph: Not Bad
“Oh, I liked (my game) better than my first four games, but I’m just really happy to be here and to be back with the guys, and I think it’s a good step in a good direction,” Joseph said postgame.