The only absolute in the NHL is that there are virtually no absolutes in the NHL.
The Penguins are not back to being the best team on Earth after shitting on the Islanders and Flyers this week.
They are also not totally cooked after getting shut out at home against the Hurricanes just two days ago.
The closest thing that exists in the NHL to being an absolute is that the Metro division is a goddamn clusterfuck.
After last night, all 8 teams in the Metro are separated by just 11 points at the halfway point of the season. One winning streak from any one team changes the whole complexion of the division and playoff outlook.
For the Penguins, they need that in a bad way.
Sitting just 1 point behind Carolina for the last Wild Card slot and just 4 points behind Columbus for 3rd place in the Metro, knocking down a string of wins helps ease the tension from the struggles so far this year.
And boy, would last night’s game be a great jumping off point.
Apart from the first ten minutes, the Pens played a perfect game, especially with it coming on the second half of a back-to-back situation. Possibly no one set the tone more than the Simon-Crosby-Sprong line, too. They dominated from start to finish, accounting for 9 of the 12 points scored on the night. They combined, individually, for 13 shot attempts at even strength. Seven came from the stick of Sprong, who ended the night with 6 total shots on goal. Sprong also ended up with 7 scoring chances and 4 high danger shot attempts.
As a line, Crosby and Sprong were only on the ice for 5 shot attempts against. Five. That’s it. In 14+ minutes of ice time, Crosby (28) and Sprong (27) led all Penguins forwards in shot attempts for, while only Letang’s 28 for matched Crosby’s output (more on Letang later).
All this is to say: Crosby looked like Crosby. Sprong looked the part. Everything clicked elsewhere in the lineup.
So please, for the love of science, keep doing that thing.
Again, Bake got the start as 3C with Phil! dropping to his line and Sprong, as mentioned, getting to ride shotty with 87. Apparently HCMS also read Pat’s Hurricanes recap because he dropped Hunwick down to the 3rd pairing with Oleksiak and elevated Maatta to play with Letang, while also reuniting Jultz and Cole. That is definitely a thing that happened. Jarry got the nod on the back end of the back-to-back vs. Halak.
“Son of a bitch. Here we fucking go again.” – You, upon sitting down and seeing Sheary go to the box for hooking 2:05 into the game, before even having a chance to shotgun your first cold one.
Aside from one chance from in tight off the stick of Tavares, the Pens killed the early penalty off with ease.
But it would be all Islanders for the first half of the period. Pens didn’t get their second shot on goal until 10:21 left in the period, while being outshot 7-2 over that stretch. As soon as that tide was stemmed, it would open the door up for them going on a 6-0 run and evening the total. This is relevant because fuck all else happened during the first period except Sprong looking good with Crosby, so long as Sprong had the puck on his stick.
The only shot that the Isles had the rest of the period came with about 90 seconds left when Jarry was called to action to felony larcen Casey Cizikas on the door step with about 90 seconds left in the period.
He didn’t know much about it, but just had his pad in the right position for the cross-crease feed. What a save.
So to recap within a recap (recapception, if you will): after being outshot 7-1 in the first half of the period, the Pens took a 13-8 SOG advantage into the room, including going on a 12-1 run of their own. But it was a 0-0 score, because it’s the 2017-18 Penguins and that’s how shit works this year.
Just 41 seconds into the period, the Penguins broke the deadlock. All it took was a little grit and determination from the Penguins’ captain, who decided he was gonna sling his dick around and rip the puck off the Isles along the left wing wall, creating a 2v1 with Sprong going the other way. Leddy took away the pass the whole way, but it’s Sidney Crosby and even a Sidney Crosby in a slump will still make a pass he shouldn’t make to set up a tap tap taperoo for the kid, thus breaking Crosby’s 5v5 point drought in slick fashion. 1-0
Less than 2 minutes later, Phil! was hauled down by Pulock in the offensive zone and the Pens PP went to work for the first time on the night. The Islanders were able to get a few clears, but a quick up by Jarry allowed the Pens to really put the Brooklyn dickheads in the spin cycle. Phil!-Crosby-Geno-Goal. 2-0
It’s still insane that teams ignore the fact that Sidney Crosby exists on the ice. All of the attention was directed at Phil! walking down that no one cared to watch Crosby literally go from one corner of the zone to the other and take that pass and feed Gene. Doesn’t get much prettier than that. Until Phil! almost did it again, setting up Guentzel with an even better feed after embarrassing the Islanders, circling the entire zone like the OG Matt Barzal. Only thing it was missing was a goal.
However, with 4:10 left, the Simon-Crosby-Sprong line would strike again. Once more, it was Crosby putting on a show, decimating the Islanders over and over again. He himself would put them through his snow hurricane, cutting and dancing and opening up Sprong for a shot that he didn’t get off cleanly. That never stopped 87, who did that thing he does from behind the net. Eat shit. 3-0
Just over a minute later, the Peng would have to kill off a 5v3 for 1:17 with Phil! and Hags in the box for some shit. But the Pens PK came to play over the last month plus, saw it out, and took the 3-0 lead into the final frame.
In the midst of shutting this shit down and bringing 2 points back home, Jultz worked his tail off to make a baller ass play at the point, beating Hickey to the loose puck and holding it in the zone as the Islanders were looking to jailbreak up ice. Sprong was the beneficiary, walking in off the wall and showcasing that lethal shot that is now being commissioned to serve as the death penalty in 13 states. 4-0
- Rumors of Sidney Crosby’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
- No goalie controversy, but Jarry has been steady almost all of this season. The Penguins have been consistently not so great defensively/in front of their goalies and have gotten average goaltending of late when they’ve needed above average goaltending to bail their asses out. Jarry’s save at the end of the first was exactly what they needed. If he doesn’t make that, we’re probably looking at a very different game and/or result.
- As mentioned earlier, Letang had himself a whale of a game too. He and Maatta looked every bit of what we thought they’d be a few years ago when Maatta was inked to his long term deal and they were head and shoulders above the rest of the Pens D last night in terms of just driving play. Both were 70+% in shot attempt share in about 18 minutes of even strength ice time, with 58 being on the ice for 28 attempts for and just 10 against (73.68%) and Maatta on the ice for 26 shot attempts for and just 11 against (70.27%).
After Sunday’s home game against the Bruins, the Pens get a bit of a reprieve in the schedule, not playing again until a back-to-back with Detroit and the Rags next weekend. Huge 6 points on the table over the next week. Go Pens.