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Penguins Six-Pack: ‘That Was Pretty Ugly’; When Winning is a Virtual Lock



Noel Acciari attended to by Chris Stewart

There were some flaws in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ game Tuesday night.

That was to be expected, considering that they were playing for the first time in 10 days.

But those occasional hiccups aside, they played a fairly smart, patient, structured game against Winnipeg in a 3-0 victory at PPG Paints Arena.

And that, coach Mike Sullivan said, is something they’ll have to do on a regular basis.

“It has to be (their approach), for us to win,” he said. “That has to be an important aspect of our team identity, our ability — and our willingness — to play a team game. An important aspect of winning in this league is, No. 1, you can’t beat yourself, and No. 2, you have to be hard to play against.

“You can define it different ways, but for me, when I think about this group that we have, being hard to play against is just being stingy. Having numbers back and (being) positionally sound and having good sticks. Closing on people and taking time and space away, using our quickness and our skill sets to win pucks.

“This group is very capable of that. And I think that when we are, the results speak for themselves. … At the end of the day, if we’re going to get to where we want to go, we’ve got to keep the puck out of our net. We’ve got to be hard to play against. We can’t beat ourselves.”

1. Credit where due

The official scoring on the Penguins’ game-winning goal was pretty straightforward:

GOAL — Kris Letang, unassisted.

That was the correct ruling by the stats crew, since Letang got the puck as a direct result of a Jets turnover, but the reality is that without help from Lars Eller and Rickard Rakell, it’s unlikely that Letang ever would have touched the puck.

Eller hit Jets defenseman Dylan Demelo, who had the puck behind the goal line to the right of the Winnipeg net, prompting Demelo to slide it to his partner, Josh Morrissey, who was a few feet away and immediately tried to move it ahead to a teammate.

But Rakell hit Morrissey just as he was releasing that pass, and the puck bounced over the stick of Jets center Adam Lowry, allowing Letang to corral it above the right circle.

“They tried to make a play in the middle,” Letang said. “It bobbled over his stick, and I was able to jump on it.”

Letang then cut into the slot before throwing a backhander off the right post and into the net at 7:16 of the opening period.

An unassisted goal that had plenty of help.

2. Familiar faces

Jansen Harkins, claimed off waivers from Winnipeg Oct. 2, had a relatively uneventful game, being credited with a couple of hits and one takeaway in seven minutes, 41 seconds of ice time.

He admitted that it was strange to be going against his former teammates for the first time — “It’s kind of weird,” he said. “It feels like no time passes when you get to see everybody again.” — and, while describing Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon as “one of the most solid teammates I’ve had,” did not defend the hit on Noel Acciari that earned Dillon a match penalty in the second period.

“It’s no excuse for hits like that,” Harkins said. “I don’t think anybody likes to see hits like that, our side or their side. You want to play safe, right? At the end of the day, you have to be responsible for yourself and the hits you throw. That was pretty ugly.”

First impressions

Jesse Puljujarvi made his Pittsburgh Penguins debut, working on the third line with Eller and Rakell, and did nothing, positive or otherwise, to stand out.

He was credited with two shots and two hits in nine minutes, 41 seconds of ice time, and was on the ice for the Letang goal.

While Puljujarvi didn’t earn rave reviews for his performance, which came in his first NHL appearance of the season, Sullivan seemed generally pleased with what he saw.

“I thought Jesse had a good game,” he said. “He’s jumping on a moving train, so to speak. … When you get into that first NHL game, I think the pace is a whole other level than what he saw in the American League, although I think those American League games are valuable for him. That’s a really good league, but the pace at this level is on a whole other level.

“There’s only one way, I think, you can get acclimated to that, by just getting in games and competing, and I thought he did a good job. He was good on the forecheck. He’s a rangy guy. He just takes up a lot of space, and he’s got a good stick. I thought he hunted pucks in the offensive zone.”

4. Waiting for takeoff

Although the Jets had to be disappointed with how the game played out, leaving them 0-3-1 in their past four, they have to like their prospects for the balance of the season.

Their goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, is a top contender for the Vezina Trophy, and they’re looking a lot better down the middle that they did before the all-star break.

That’s because Mark Scheifele, their No. 1 center, was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games because of an injury, and their No. 2, Sean Monahan, was appearing in his first game with the Jets after being acquired from Montreal last week.

While neither of them had a profound impact on this game — they each had one hit and one shot — when they settle in and get their games in synch, they should help to make Winnipeg a formidable group in the playoffs.

5. Rapid response

Credit some impressive reactions with making Tristan Jarry’s league-leading sixth shutout possible.

And not just the ones he had on some of the 23 saves he made.

The Jets wouldn’t have been held off the scoreboard if not for Penguins’ video staff, which determined seconds after Scheifele scored at 6:44 of the third period that Winnipeg winger Gabriel Vilardi had been offside on the play.

That led to the Penguins challenging the on-ice ruling of a valid goal, and a video review determined that they were correct, so the goal was disallowed .

It was the sixth time the Penguins have challenged a call this season, and the fourth time the decision went in their favor.

6. A sure thing?

Wagering on sports is not without its risks — they call it gambling for a reason — but picking the Pittsburgh Penguins to win this game might have been about as safe of a play as there is.

They are, after all, now on a 13-1 roll in their first game back after an all-star break.

If they could just convince the NHL to hold an All-Star Game every couple of weeks, they might not be in such danger of failing to qualify for the playoffs.

The other possibility would be for them to lobby the league to put them in the same division as the Jets. The Penguins are 20-2 in their past 22 home games against Winnipeg, dating to when that franchise was based in Atlanta.