Daniel Sprong scored his first NHL goal in over two years, and he and center Sidney Crosby dominated large chunks of the game. Sprong liked the first goal so much, he scored a jaw-dropping second goal and added an assist. Crosby meanwhile had slump purging four-point night (1g, 3a), as the Pittsburgh Penguins controlled the New York (Brooklyn, soon to be Long Island again) Islanders 4-0.
The “Bomb Cyclone” winter weather prevented the Pittsburgh Penguins from flying to New York Thursday night. Instead, the Penguins flew into New York Friday, survived a series of long bus rides through Manhattan, yet managed to bring more energy than they showed at any point in Thursdays embarrassing loss to Carolina.
Perhaps as a Hail Mary, probably in a shrewd move, coaches paired Crosby with a pair of youngsters who were both in the AHL, two weeks ago. Sprong played on the right, and Dominik Simon got the left flank. The move rejuvenated Crosby, who was caught by TV cameras instructing his padawans on the bench with the use of an iPad.
Simon also had two points and a strong game. The trio set the tone for the Penguins with energy and offensive pressure.
When the Penguins faltered, early in the game and in the third period, rookie goaltender Tristan Jarry was unbeatable. Jarry stopped 31 shots, including a handful of 10 bell saves. He robbed Islanders star John Tavares on two different occasions.
Crosby and Sprong turned an Islanders defensive lapse into a two-on-one break moments into the second period. Crosby held the puck until he had a clear passing lane. Sprong (1) neatly shoveled it into an open cage. 1-0.
A few minutes later, Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal with a one-timer from the right wing circle. 2-0. And, the game suddenly seemed less competitive.
The Penguins peppered the Islanders and netminder Jaroslav Halak with 19 shots in the second period.
It was Crosby’s turn, with five minutes left in the middle period. Crosby nearly broke Tavares ankles in the Islanders zone, as Tavares tried to maintain coverage. Crosby showed the fellow superstar his all-world edgework, then put the puck on Sprong’s stick in the slot. Sprong’s shot went wide, but Crosby (15) used Halak as a backboard and banked the puck across the goal line. 3-0.
It was Crosby’s first goal since December 16, versus Arizona.
Sprong showed off his individual talent with his second goal:
Jarry was a brick wall in the third period. The Penguins received a much-needed win and leapfrogged the suddenly free-falling Islanders in the Metro Division.
The Penguins still trail the Carolina Hurricanes by one point for the second Wild Card position, but the Hurricanes now have three games in hand.
—Daniel Sprong. Easily his best game as a professional. That includes his first stint in the NHL and any game he’s played in WBS (though I’ve only recently been watching his AHL games). Sprong was big. He wasn’t credited with a hit, which is a scoring error. He dished a couple of checks along the boards and used his body in puck battles.
Sprong’s willingness to use his bulky frame was the most surprising aspect of his breakout game, Friday.
Sidney Crosby’s patience and willingness to coach the kids through the game was the other surprise. The picture, Sprong’s chin nearly resting on Crosby’s shoulder, as the great master painted the picture was striking.
Perhaps the youth and excitement are what Crosby needs. Indeed, a couple of guys flying all over the zone and Sprong shooting at every chance doesn’t hurt.
–TEMPER YOUR EXPECTATIONS! Sprong won’t score a pair every game, nor will he play that well. Sprong will eventually settle into a rhythm. Like Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel, he may go on a small tear. Then begin to struggle. Need to sit for a couple of games. Later re-emerge. That is the typical pattern–BUT–Crosby-Sprong could be fun.
It has a chance to work. Perhaps Crosby can reach the kid in ways his coaches could not. It is an interesting dynamic.
–No, there isn’t a goalie controversy yet. (Does anyone remember me, for two years, saying Murray would eventually struggle as shooters began to pick apart his weaknesses? And his glove was weak? Then Murray would have to respond. Bueller?). Murray has been hung out to dry far too often. The Penguins have needed too many big saves from Murray, and it’s recently not gone well.
You don’t need to harp on the glove hand. It’s the same glove side that raised a Cup in San Jose and Nashville.
—Tristan Jarry. I feel like we’ve covered this topic well, too. Jarry plays like a big goaltender but has the athleticism of a small goalie. He’s calm, sharp and fun to watch. However, Like Murray now, at some point shooters will also find holes in his game. It’s a similar process to a starting pitcher in baseball.
–I had high hopes for the Kuhnhackl, Sheahan, Reaves line. Those are about gone, too. The line combined for one shot. They entered the zone in the first period. They worked the puck low and tenderized the Islanders defense, but didn’t sustain the success.
—Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary each played less than 11 minutes. But, that’s a good thing. By limiting Guentzel at center, the Penguins limited their liability, kept other lines together, and developed some continuity.
See you Sunday, if you thaw out by then.