The Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t going to be picky.
When a team is 2-4, it just wants a victory.
Against any opponent. Under any circumstances.
Still, beating a quality team the way they did at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night, when they defeated Colorado, 4-0, was especially satisfying, and provided the kind of confidence boost the Penguins craved after their uneven start to the season.
“They came in undefeated,” center Lars Eller said. “One of the best teams in the league. We showed ourselves that this is how good we’re capable of being when we’re on top of our game.”
The Penguins hadn’t been there — not consistently, anyway — through most of the previous six games, although some rough patches were all but inevitable because of how their roster was made over during the summer.
“It’s early (in the season), obviously,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “A lot of new faces. There’s a lot of new guys who are trying to find chemistry and find their way into the system. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy at the beginning. The St. Louis game (a 4-2 loss Saturday) was a bad one, a horrible game from us. But the other games, we’re there. We’re battling hard. It’s just mistakes here and there, and we’re on the wrong side of the game. It feels good to have a game like this tonight.”
While a lot of factors contributed to this most impressive victory, one of the most striking — and important — was the Penguins’ penalty-killing.
Colorado had scored on six of 21 power plays in its first six games, a conversion rate of 28.6 percent, but was 0-for-5 with the extra man and was limited to four shots on goal during its 10 minutes with the man-advantage against the Penguins.
“Usually, the most important guy on the PK is your goalie,” said Kris Letang, whose shorthanded workload was a team-high five minutes, 33 seconds. “Obviously, Tristan (Jarry) did a tremendous job tonight. We were focused in the right place and executing the game plan, making sure we applied the right details in the right spots. Obviously, we paid attention to (Nathan) MacKinnon and (Cale) Makar — they’re unbelievable players — so I thought everybody contributed in different ways.”
Lars Eller, who had called out his team for defensive lapses during a 4-1 loss to Dallas Tuesday, praised the Pittsburgh Penguins for their all-in approach against the Avalanche.
“The play without the puck, the willingness to do the right thing, stay above their guys and be on the right side, defensively,” he said. “Fight for loose pucks. Have a strong defensive game. The willingness to do that, the commitment, was there, and that led to good offense.”
Of course, it helped that that sound team defense was backed up by a flawless performance by Jarry, who made 31 saves en route to his 15th career shutout.
“I was happy for him,” Eller said. “Every time we needed a big save, especially on the (penalty-kill), he came up huge for us. The game was by no means over until (the Penguins scored) the fourth one, so he was great tonight.”
Reilly Smith scored the Penguins’ first and second goals, swelling his total for the season to four.
It’s no coincidence that the primary assist on three of those has gone to his center, Evgeni Malkin, because those two have meshed nicely all season. That’s something not everyone who has been put on a line with Malkin has done.
“I just try to keep an eye open for where he’s at,” Smith said. “He doesn’t always look for the fastest lane to the net. Sometimes, he’s just looking for space, and open ice. He does a great job when he has the puck on his stick, so I just try to do that as best as possible, and just try to find an open lane for myself.”
Tristan Jarry’s shutout was his second of the season, making him the only goalie in the league to record more than one so far in 2023-24.
As well as the Pittsburgh Penguins played in front of him, he still had to make a handful of exceptional stops, including a pair in the second period. He denied Fredrik Olofsson about 2 1/2 minutes into the period, then gloved Jonathan Drouin’s shot from the slot at 18:45, during a four-minute Colorado power play.
A couple of his saves inspired the crowd to chant his name, but Jarry was typically even-keeled when discussing his performance.
“It’s just another game for me,” Jarry said. “I want to be solid back there. I want the guys to know what they’re going to get every night. I want to be committed to every save and just being prepared. That puts me in a good position and helps me make saves.”