The Pittsburgh Penguins did not bomb the Winnipeg Jets. The Penguins were chasing Winnipeg on the scoreboard for most of the game. The Penguins were getting looks from scoring areas but not an abundance of second chances. And Winnipeg had most of their rushes covered.
Then the fourth line came to the rescue.
The Penguins fourth line which had one goal this season–combined–scored goals to tie the game in the second period and the third period. The second was a cheapie as Derek Grant shot the puck from behind the dot, but Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck let it leak through. Hellebuyck returned the soft-goal favor which Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith spotted Winnipeg just 39 seconds into the second period.
The Penguins shuffled their lines early in the second period. Head coach Mike Sullivan separated Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel after the pair became sloppy. Kessel slotted with playmaking center Derick Brassard and tenacious speed player Bryan Rust took the right side with Malkin.
Brassard and Rust were noticeably strong in the first two periods. They allowed only three shot attempts in over seven minutes of 5v5 play.
Brassard and Kessel were not great in their four minutes of 5v5 ice, but the line did set up the winning goal with five minutes remaining. Zach Aston-Reese continued his beast-mode play. The Penguins rookie who had a 16-game cup of coffee last season and nine playoff games is quickly becoming a valuable asset.
The Penguins breakouts were not as tight and their “three stick” rule was a bit loose, but both teams were positionally responsible. Winnipeg is a big, tough team, and the Penguins did not work the corners and walls with regularity. They tried the rush-offense with marginal success.
However, after the fourth line tied the game, the Penguins re-discovered their simple, ugly yet successful play. When the Penguins play ugly, they Penguins play well. These are not the old Penguins–as we’ve written too many times–and when they finally realize this, they could control their own destiny.