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Penguins Six-Pack: ‘We Just Weren’t Thinking’; Ludvig’s Net Gain



Michael Bunting vs. Sharks

What matters most to the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course, is how their 6-3 victory against San Jose at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night ended.

This is, after all, a bottom-line business, and the Penguins finished the evening with a badly needed victory and a couple of points.

But they managed that despite being little more than interested onlookers for much of the first period, as San Jose, which rests at the bottom of the overall standings, dominated play.

Begin that way against a quality opponent, as opposed to one that’s now 1-9-2 in its past dozen games, and the Penguins might never have had a chance to rally the way they did.

“It was a bad start for us, but I thought we responded well,” forward Drew O’Connor said. “We can’t let that happen.”

But they did, and defenseman John Ludvig had a pretty simple explanation for why.

“We just weren’t thinking, and we weren’t working as hard as we should have been,” he said. “We weren’t as physical as we could have been in our own end, and they were working harder than us. That’s all it was.”

1. Ludvig finds the range

Ludvig’s second NHL goal, which came on a wrist shot from the left point at 2:38 of the third period, broke a 3-3 tie and proved to be his first game-winner.

He took a feed from defense partner P.O Joseph before launching the puck toward the San Jose net.

“I just tried to make a little move, and put it on net,” Ludvig said. “Luckily, it went in.”

He also picked up an assist on the goal Rickard Rakell scored two minutes later, which means that in 120 seconds, he matched his offensive output in 26 previous games.

“It was just nice to contribute,” Ludvig said. “It’s not normally offensively, but that was the case tonight. I’m just happy I could chip in.”

2. Quick healer

Mikael Granlund, a non-factor for the Pittsburgh Penguins after they acquired him from Nashville at the trade deadline in 2023, is having a nice bounce-back season for San Jose, which got him in the Erik Karlsson trade.

He leads the Sharks with 33 assists and 42 points and, based on what transpired during the second period, incredible comebacks.

At 12:50, Granlund got tangled up with Bryan Rust behind the Sharks’ goal line, and fell awkwardly to the ice.

He immediately seemed to be in agony, and had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room.

Replays of the incident suggested damage to his right knee or ankle, and the best-case (albeit seemingly unlikely) scenario looked to be that somehow, perhaps it wasn’t a season-ending injury.

Well, it wasn’t. Granlund didn’t miss months or weeks or days, or possibly even a shift.

He returned to the ice just a few minutes later, showing no signs of being injured.

“He looked really hurt,” Rakell said. “And then he was back.”

3. Keeping hope alive

Beating San Jose allowed the Penguins’ chances of making the playoffs to improve from microscopic to miniscule; they are five points behind the New York Islanders, who hold the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Both teams have 17 games remaining, and there are four other clubs — Detroit, Washington, Buffalo and New Jersey — separating them in the wild-card race.

Daunting as the challenge before them is, coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins can’t accept that their bid to get back into postseason play is doomed.

“We just have to stay with it,” Sullivan said. “I believe it’s not insurmountable. I believe we have what it takes to continue to push  and give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs.”

4. Traffic report

One of the enduring truths in the NHL is that getting pucks and bodies to the net is a good way to manufacture goals.

The Pittsburgh Penguins did both of those, at times, against the Sharks.

“Our focus today was to try to get some more bodies to the net,” Rakell said. “Create rebounds. Give guys close to the net a chance to score.”

That hasn’t always been the case this season, which is why the subject was stressed before the game.

“I thought we did a much better job tonight, just as far as net traffic and making the goalie’s sightlines difficult,” Sullivan said. “That was a conversation we had this morning with the guys. We tried to show them on film some examples of scoring, when our group has scored goals over the course of the year with just being hungry around the blue paint, having activity around the blue paint. Making it hard for our opponents’ goaltenders.”

5. Crosby’s touch dries up

Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins with 32 goals, and with Jake Guentzel now laboring for the greater glory of Carolina, he isn’t likely to surrender that distinction.

His closest pursuers (aside from Guentzel, who scored 22 before being traded) are Rust and Evgeni Malkin, who have 19 each.

Crosby, though, hasn’t added to his total in 10 games, the first time he’s experienced a double-digit drought since going 10 without a goal March 14-April 2, 2019.

He got his most recent goal Feb. 25 against Philadelphia.

Crosby can’t be expected to singlehandedly carry the Penguins’ offense, although there have been times this season when he seemed to, but it’s not unreasonable to count on him for an occasional goal.

6. A home-ly record of late

The lure of a Jaromir Jagr bobblehead wasn’t enough to attract a capacity crowd to PPG Paints Arena Thursday, even before word got out that the shipment of them was stolen.

Neither was having San Jose, the NHL’s worst team, providing the opposition.

Of course, there’s at least one other reason that only 17,027 tickets were in circulation for the game: The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been all that good at home.

Beating the Sharks raised their record in the past 16 games there to just 7-6-3.