One thing we know about this Penguins team after 3 games is that we don’t actually know shit about them.
What we can discern is that:
- They aren’t having any trouble scoring goals in October this year (good).
- Their puck management is akin to Ray Charles trying to do passing drills with Helen Keller (bad).
Despite #2 generally negatively impacting #1, last night was a bit of a different animal. That can largely be attributed to Phil Kessel knowing exactly when to fly the zone and take off in behind the VGK d-men and can little-ly be attributed to the Pens even having a semblance of a reasonable breakout. It truly felt like every single pass from the d-zone into the neutral zone got broken up or picked off (more on that maybe this weekend).
The other different maker, other than Phil Kessel using and scoring with a new stick, was Casey The Smith.
He was absolutely stellar, turning aside 35 of the 37 shots he faced and the “best player on the ice” according to HCMS. He looked a little shaky early on in the game as Vegas implemented its onslaught of offensive, but once he settled into the game, he was unflappable. All this despite Vegas living in his mouth all damn night.
That big ass deep dark blue blob right in front of the crease? Not great! Those are all unblocked shot attempts from, effectively, point blank range, including one on a 2v0 with Reeve’s and Bellemare almost immediately after the Pens went up 4-1 (spoiler).
The Penguins, on the other hand, had exactly none of that same success, but still managed to score 4 goals, leaving the home fans chanting for Fleury, effectively pleading with Gallant to throw a backup goalie into a game that was basically lost.
When all is said and done, it certainly wasn’t a pretty W, but it was a win. With 5 of their next 6 games coming up being on the road, a 2-1-0 start isn’t the worst thing in the world.
As we already knew, Riikola joined the lineup to make his NHL debut in place of Olli Maatta, whose place next to Jack Johnson got occupied by Jultz. Jarry was a late emergency call up with Murr out with a concussion, giving The Smith his first start of the year.
If you can make any fucking sense out of this garbled mess of shit, have at it. No Goaltender 29, though.
VGK – 1st Pd./6:28 – Nosek; A: Marchessault, Karlsson – 1-0
The Penguins, well, it took them some time to get settled into this one last night. It started with Simon getting shipped to the box just 1:40 into the game and included some more of that fun, poor puck management we’ve seen throughout the first 2 games of the year.
Perhaps the most egregious, though, came just under 6 and a half minutes into the tilt. Some up and down action turned Guentzel-Crosby-Hornqvist loose on what was basically a 3v2, only to have Guentzel look to feed a trailing Crosby, but have his pass go awry. Absolutely 100% one of the worst places to turn the puck over and it sent a tired Bill Karlsson and Marchessault back the other way, being joined by Dr. Andre Nodick jumping off the bench. With Karlsson driving the net and taking Crosby with him, Marchessault circled back to pull Dumoulin out with him and open up the lane right down Forbes for Nosek to strut in. The Pens had the numbers defensively, but no one decided following Nosek was a good idea, allowing him to freely take the center feed from Marchessault and throw a backhander at The Smith, beating him and opening the scoring.
Guentzel’s turnover started the whole thing, but Rust, who was fresh off the bench, cannot get caught just standing there with his head up his own ass and allow Nosek to walk right in like that.
PIT – 1st Pd./8:03 – Phil!; A: Malkin – 1-1
But, despite being mostly outplayed, about a minute and half later the Pens were level. Coming directly off an offensive zone draw, Malkin dialed in to win the draw over to Phil! on his off wing to walk in and wire one through a mass of bodies, beating Subban with a vintage Phil! shot short side. Game on.
From there, the Pens had a chance later on on the ePP to sneak back into it and take the lead, but weren’t able to capitalize. Of not was Big Dick Patric being a big dick playa.
PIT – 2nd Pd./9:37 – Phil!; A: Malkin, Jultz – 2-1
In the opening minutes of the second period, Vegas picked up right where the left off in attempting to run the Pens out of their own goddamn building. Despite that, it was the Pens showing up on the scoresheet and the highlights, starting with Letang being inhumane to Ryan Reeve’s (RIP) on the Kris Letang Redemption Tour to set up Crosby for a one timer on a give and go that just wouldn’t beat Subban. Maybe if Reeve’s would’ve punched him in the face, he wouldn’t have been undressed like this.
But then, Phil! opened the flood gates about two minutes later.
After Johnson and Schultz totally dick punched themselves trying to move the puck up ice a handful of times, either turning the puck over or nearly turning the puck over, Malkin decided to take matters into his own hands, swooping down low as Nosek damn near forced Jultz to giftwrap him the puck. As soon as Malkin picked up the puck and got his head up, Phil! was gone. He saw Colin Miller creeping down from the point to try to pick the pass to Phil! at the wall, and as soon as he did, Phil! hit the huge gap left between Miller and McNabb to take Malkin’s head-man feed and burn in on a breakaway, leaving Subban exactly 0 chance of stopping it.
PIT – 2nd Pd./15:43 – Phil!; A: Hagelin, Malkin – 3-1
A couple of shifts later, Phil! completed the natural hattie with the eventual game winner from the same spot.
This time around, it stemmed from a defensive zone draw that Gene lost. McNabb took the loose puck up the wall, engaging with Malkin defensively. One thing to note about Vegas is they will not hesitate to throw anything and everything at the net, which is precisely what McBabb was looking to do with Nosek and Haula creating traffic in front of The Smith. The attempt, though, found nothing but Malkin and Jultz before going wide of the net, creating a race between Pacioretty and Hagelin for the loose puck. You’ll notice Phil! leave the frame, recognizing that Hags was always going to win that race. Again, Miller and McNabb found themselves way too far apart, giving Phil! free reign of the neutral zone (again) to take the stretch pass and go 1 on 1 with Subban, firing his wrister low this time and through Subban.
PIT – 2nd Pd./16:40 – Guentzel A: Crosby, Jultz – 4-1
And just 57 seconds later, it was 4, coming once again from Schultz and Johnson struggling to get out of their own zone. Instead of passing this time, Johnson tried skating it out, only to try to force a pass up the wall to Kessel. It didn’t connect, forcing Vegas to retreat with the puck inside their own zone before missing a pass of their own and giving it back to Johnson for a redo.
In what felt like the only pass Johnson connected on all game, a simple D-to-D to Jultz, it moved Vegas’ neutral zone conglomerate enough (with the help of Haula and Nosek going to the bench), opening up the lane for Jultz to hit Guentzel on the far side to open everything right the fuck up.
Bake wasted no time taking advantage of the bad change, hitting Crosby with another cross-ice feed to get him into the O-zone. Bill Karlsson put the pressure on 87, but it was never going to be enough to stop Sid from returning the favor to 59 with a disgusting no-look, cross-ice backhand feed right to the tape of Guentzel to grip and rip a shot off the iron and in behind Subban.
PIT – 3rd Pd./13:35 – Smith A: Marchessault – 4-2
As you’d expect, in a 4-1 game, the 3rd period was all one way traffic. At 5v5 in the 3rd period alone, Vegas attempted 21 shots, limiting the Pens to just 7. They had 8 scoring chances, only 2 of which were of the high danger variety. The also had the only goal of the 3rd, giving them enough time to make things interesting.
What started with Crosby and Guentzel cycling along the wall in the offensive zone and ended with Crosby’s reverse pass not finding Guentzel in behind him, the puck found its way migrating all the way down into the Pens zone. No harm, no foul, as Jultz and Johnson were free to go back and collect the puck with no pressure. Schultz’s initial controlled breakout feed up to Crosby off the wall was out of 87’s reach, turning it back over to Vegas in the neutral zone for a dump in. The Smith set it up for Schultz, who in turn gave it straight away to Marchessault along the boards. Smith was in pursuit, but not enough for that bad of a turnover. Marchessault, silky as he is, drove right into the slot, drawing Johnson out, while Guentzel and Schultz tried to deal with Karlsson in front. In doing so, neither of them picked up Smith right next to The Smith’s net, giving him a free tap in from Marchessault’s no-look, backdoor backhand gift.
To make matters worse, the Pens opened the door for VGK to get back into this and make it 4-3 just over a minute later when Brassers went off for hooking Eakin. Pens killed it, setting the stage for Subban to be ready to vacate his cage for the extra skater. Instead, the Pens bottled them right the fuck up, keeping Subban in the net until just over a minute to play. That’s when Letang went into Beast Mode.
When Vegas finally got into the Pens end of the ice on the 6v5, Letang was everywhere. Just watch this shit. He goes from flat-footed, standing still in front of the net to being on top of Haula along the boards in about 3 strides, launching him from the top of the circle to out of the zone and out of frame and maybe into orbit. Impossible to say!
And that would do it. Spin that Fifth Ave Victory.
- Phil Kessel, you guys. He might be good. Five shot attempts, 4 on goal, 5 scoring chances, 3 high danger chances, and 3 goals. Efficiency, baby.
- Pens still weren’t great defensively (they were better than they have been, for what that’s worth) or managing the puck, but they got by. Perhaps the worst of the lot was the pairing of Johnson and Schultz. The giveaways stat is always tough to track on the box score because of variations from scorekeepers and arenas around the league, but the Pens were credited with 7 on the night and 3 of those came from the stick on Justin Schultz. By and large, the Pens lived in their own zone for the majority of the night, but no two players were locked in more than those two. At 5v5, Schultz say the Pens register 6 shot attempts towards Subban’s net, while seeing 26 levied against him (18.75%). For Johnson, it was 7-24 (22.58%). On top of that, they saw an 11-6 and 4-2 edge against them in scoring chances and high danger scoring chances (35.29% and 33.33%) respectively. In short, last night, that pairing did not work.
- On the flip side, the Oleksiak-Riikola pairing did work last night. They were the closest to 50% in shot attempt share in a game where the Pens saw 66 shot attempts against and 39 for (37.14%) at 5v5. Olesksiikola were on the ice for just 1 offensive zone faceoff and 12 D-zone faceoffs, meaning they spent a lot of time starting in their own zone. However, they managed to find themselves on the ice for 8 of the Pens 20 scoring chances, while going 17-20 shot attempts for/against together. With the team getting caved in the way that they did from a possession standpoint, that’s a bright spot.
- Kris Letang: Actually Good.
Pens are back at it on Saturday night in their first road game of the season, heading up north to Montreal to see the Habs for the second time in 7 days. LGP.