The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a playoff spot for the first time in weeks after allowing one goal in the last three games. Not coincidentally, the Penguins won all three games as they danced across Canada like the Northern Lights.
If you love gritty hockey, the Penguins were almost as pretty, too.
The Penguins crowded the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and showed an uncommon physicality in the dirty areas of the ice in their 3-1 win on Monday night.
“It kind of took us a little bit to get our legs going tonight. But (Jarry) made some really big saves for us to keep us in that game early, which was good,” Jason Zucker said. “…The battle, the urgency we had throughout the entire trip I thought was really good. And I think we stayed with it for 60 minutes, for every game, which was huge for us.”
In the second period, Jake Guentzel plowed into Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, which was the start of the Penguins activity around the Winnipeg net.
For a team that is generally ineffective or absent around the net, the Penguins dedicated themselves to playing hard around the cage.
The 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds of Guentzel channeled his inner Patric Hornqvist. Zucker made a beeline for the cage multiple times, including his second-period goal, and Danton Heinen continues to be an under-the-radar assassin.
“We haven’t had a healthy team all year. You know, we’ve had guys out, left and right. And, you know, so to to get back and have a more healthy lineup is really big for us. And it’s gaining the chemistry back that…so it just took a couple of games, but it’s been nice to have that for this trip,” Zucker said.
But it was far more than chemistry.
Tactically, the Penguins were restrained but the second and third periods were perfectly on point. There are plenty of solid performances, but a few players who didn’t earn high marks.
“(Winnipeg) came out hard on their toes and they’re a talented team but I thought we did a pretty good job just grabbing hold of ourselves, trying to turn the momentum a little bit, just simplifying the game,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “…I thought in the first period we weren’t as heavy on the puck with the puck battles–we needed to be more determined. And I thought the players responded really well. We competed hard in that in the last 40 minutes, and the third, I think, was our best.”
The Penguins outshot Winnipeg 17-6 in the third period.
Of course, we’ll end the suspense and tell you Tristan Jarry, and Jake Guentzel each get an A+.