The Pittsburgh Penguins tried something radically different Monday against Seattle.
They actually competed for 60 minutes, rather than spending the first period seeming like disinterested onlookers, as they had in their previous two games, overtime losses against Vancouver and Carolina.
“Much better,” right winger Bryan Rust said. “We were on our toes.”
As opposed to on their backs, which is where they were after 20 minutes against the Canucks and Hurricanes.
“We started off strong,” goalie Tristan Jarry said. “That was something we talked about the last couple of games, just having a better start.”
The change in approach was rewarded with a 3-0 victory at PPG Paints Arena, nudging the Penguins closer to an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Here’s a look at some of the highs and lows from that game:
1. Just a coincidence? Really?
Jarry made 22 saves to earn his fifth shutout of the season, tying Connor Ingram of Arizona for the NHL lead.
And it might not even have been bis best performance of the week.
Jarry, after all, turned aside 19 of 20 shots after relieving Alex Nedeljkovic in what became a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver last Thursday, then stopped 32 of 35 during a 3-2 overtime defeat at Carolina two nights later.
In both instances, Jarry was the primary reason the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to salvage a point.
He has, of course, had other strong performances this season, but the current stretch might be his best of 2023-24.
That it came in the immediate wake of a series of strong showings by Nedeljkovic, spawning speculation that a legitimate competition for the No. 1 job might be brewing, suggests that Jarry’s strong play just might be a response to the challenge presented by Nedeljkovic.
2. On bended knee
Sidney Crosby scored twice against Seattle, giving him 26 in 42 games, a 51-goal pace that would match his career-best from 2009-10.
And while he hasn’t scored all, or even most, of them while on one knee, as he did on his first one against the Kraken, he does it on a fairly regular basis.
“I think he’s the best player in the game, the best player in the world — and has been for a long time — in and around the blue paint,” said coach Mike Sullivan, who cited Crosby’s creativity as his foundation of his offensive game. “How many times you see him on one knee and he’ll shorten up on his stick. He’ll slide his top hand halfway down the shaft of his stick. He makes himself big and off the backdoor, and he scores goals that way.”
3. Welcome back
Seattle defenseman Brian Dumoulin — that still sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? — received a warm reception from the crowd when his first game back at PPG Paints Arena was recognized with a tribute video during a stoppage in play in the first period.
Dumoulin, who spent the first 10 seasons of his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, signed with the Kraken as a free agent last summer.
He got off to a slow start in Seattle, but has settled in on the No. 3 pairing, where he partnered with another ex-Penguin, Justin Schultz, at the start of the game, although the defensive tandems were scrambled after big-minutes defenseman Adam Larsson left the game during the first period because of illness.
Dumoulin ended up logging 20 minutes, nine seconds of playing time — 1:22 of it during the Penguins’ two power plays — and was credited with two hits. He was on the ice for the Penguins’ first goal, when he was unable to break up a 2-on-1 foray by Bryan Rust and Drew O’Connor.
Here’s how the other four ex-Penguins in Seattle’s lineup fared:
Jared McCann — Two shots, two hits and a game-high three takeaways in 16 minutes, 25 seconds.
Brandon Tanev — Two shots, one hit (and probably a few wide-eyed stares) in 15 minutes, 26 seconds.
Justin Schultz — Played 17 minutes, eight seconds and was on the ice for all three Penguins goals.
Jamie Oleksiak — Three shots and two hits while playing a game-high 28 minutes, 21 seconds.
4. A blue-line reunion
As expected, Sullivan reunited the No. 2 defense pairing of Erik Karlsson and Ryan Graves, and Graves responded with a pretty solid showing in his first game after being bumped back up from the third pairing.
While it wasn’t blemish-free — Graves was guilty of at least one ill-considered pinch — there were no grievous errors during his 21 minutes, 50 seconds of playing time.
“His game has really improved here over the last little while,” Sullivan said, adding that “I thought he had another strong game.”
Graves didn’t do much to draw attention to himself — that’s generally a good thing for a player filling his role — and seemed reasonably satisfied with how he fared upon rejoining Karlsson.
“I thought it was good,” Graves said. “Playing with (Chad Ruhwedel) reminds you of what you should be and what brings you success. … It simplifies the game, to play with someone like that, and then when you come back to someone like (Karlsson), you need to remember that what brings you success is to be simple. Tonight is a good example of that.”
5. Power’s still off
It’s easy to gloss over after an otherwise-sound performance, but the Penguins’ power play had another unproductive — and decidedly unimpressive — game.
The Penguins generated just two shots on Kraken goalie Joey Daccord during two chances with the man-advantage and are now 0-for-10 in the past three games.
Failing to score while they had an extra man might well have cost the Pittsburgh Penguins a point in those overtime losses to Vancouver and Carolina. They got away with it against Seattle, but can’t assume they’ll be able to do that on a regular basis.
If the guys on the top unit can’t make it work, it’s time to put some new guys there.
6. Showing up
Although some fans — especially those who were compelled to work Monday — weren’t shy about expressing their displeasure when the starting time for this game was moved up five hours to 1:08 p.m. because the Steelers’ playoff game in Buffalo was shifted from Sunday to Monday, the actual turnout didn’t seem to suffer much.
The official attendance, which reflects tickets in circulation rather than occupied seats, was 18,202, qualifying as a sellout.
There were, to be sure, some seats that weren’t filled, but it didn’t appear to be many more than at most other home games.