PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t wait long to back on the winning side. One game after their eight-game winning streak was snapped, the Penguins penalty killing unit scored a pair of goals including one by Bryan Rust (10, 11) who also had two goals. Sidney Crosby notched his 20th goal for the 12th time to tie Mario Lemieux for most in Penguins history and the Penguins didn’t need their best game to beat the Florida Panthers, 5-1.
The Penguins penalty kill effectively allowed three goals against Chicago Sunday night, though because time elapsed just before two goals–only one was officially a power-play goal.
Just over one minute into the game. the Penguins pushed 39-year-old Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo with a quick transition. After dogged puck pursuit by Dominik Simon who just wouldn’t let it go, Penguins defenseman Marcus Petterson stepped forward at the red line to disrupt the Florida breakout. Tanner Pearson (6) snatched the loose puck beat Luongo five-hole for an early lead.
Just two minutes later, the Penguins scored again. The Penguins top line showed off a little bit of stickhandling skill working around Florida defenders as Bryan Rust drove to the net. Jake Guentzel floated the puck to Rust (10) who backhand deked Luongo.
“We were definitely looking to be a little bit better,” said Rust. “We defended up ice really well. We disrupted their breakout and we caught them in some situations where we could take advantage.”
The Penguins power play, which had been the hockey equivalent of molten-lava hot until Sunday was again dangerous but Tuesday they were dangerous to themselves. The Penguins power play yielded no less than four high-danger scoring chances including a couple uncovered chances in front and a breakaway.
Fortunately for the Penguins, their penalty killing was lethal. First, Rust (11) scored his second goal just two minutes into the second period. After Dominik Simon got the gate, Rust again drove the net was set up by Matt Cullen.
LIke a carbon copy of the first period, the Penguins scored a few minutes later, also shorthanded. After offensive pressure, Riley Sheahan (6) burned a hole through Luongo with a hard wrister. That was the end of the evening for Luongo and the beginning for backup James Reimer.
The Penguins didn’t score again until later in the third period. Playing four-on-four, Evgeni Malkin laid the saucer pass on Crosby’s stick. Crosby (20) deflected it past Reimer to tie Lemieux for most 20-goal seasons in Penguins history.
Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad (9) who had a goal called off because of offside midway through the second period, earned it back later in the period. His long slap shot eluded Murray when Florida forward Jared McCann backed into Murray at the top of the crease.
Matt Murray was brilliant for the Penguins. He made a few 10-bell saves in the first period which allowed the Penguins to pull away. Murray stopped a couple of shorthanded breakaways including stoning Colton Sceviour with a scorpion save (face down, kick the back pad up). Murray stopped 37 shots and improved his record to 12-5-1.
The game was also not a free skate. Chippiness and some rough stuff persisted. Penguins Defensemen Marcus Pettersson fought Mackenize Weeger late in the second period. Weeger roughed up Pettersson And early in the third period, Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese had to answer for a late hit on Frank Vatrano. He and Sceviour dropped the mitts for a good scrap.
“We were just trying to play the game hard. Zach had a physical game. That’s when he’s at his best,” said Mike Sullivan.
Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after being hit high by a puck. Aston-Reese left the game after his fight with Sceviour, in which Aston-Reese didn’t appear to be hit but perhaps suffered a different injury.
“My sense is Zach could be out a little while, but (Hornqvist and Aston-Reese) are being evaluated,” Sullivan admitted.
Also, Tuesday night Penguins defenseman Kris Letang passed legendary Penguins organization man Rick Kehoe for sixth-most games played in Penguins history. Letang became the Penguins all-time defenseman leading scorer earlier this season.