The Penguins were welcomed into the Bell Centre last night for a Hockey Night in Canada showdown with the Montreal Canadiens. There’s something about playing the Canadiens, and their beedy eyed fans bragging about all the cups they won when there were 5 other teams in the league, that just irritates a guy. Regardless of those feelings, HNIC is an elite broadcast and NBCSN should just copy everything they do.
New Year new team, the Penguins started their second game of the year with the same possible lineup and no new injuries* were reported. Sam Lafferty hasn’t been as funny during his second call-up and Sullivan opted to give Thomas Di Pauli his first NHL game experience in Montreal.
After Casey DeSmith lost his passport, social media darling Emil Larmi was recalled to back up Murray while Tristan Jarry stayed home to rest, *Jarry is banged up. Take a good look at those lines, because they would not end that way.
This game featured two of the most disciplined teams in the league in terms of taking penalties. They combined for 8 penalties in the first period which resulted in just 13:02 of 5v5 hockey. Five minutes in Marcus Pettersson kicked off his eventful night by tripping Lukas Vejdemo, which I think is an app Vegans use to pay for food. The Pens would kill off the early penalty, but the Canadiens gained some momentum from it. After the kill, Nick Suzuki beat John Marino and Pettersson to a potential icing and fed it to Max Domi in front. Domi made a slick move to get the puck over to Artturi Lehkonen while Marino and Pettersson were still trying to figure out where they were. Lehkonen wasted no time to surprise Murray with a low hard one.
The good news is that when the Penguins get beat it’s usually because of a systemic breakdown or a bad turnover, which means they are a good team most of the time. This one was no different, though Pettersson was a little deep, Patric Hornqvist slotted in perfectly but was danced around by Domi. You can’t be mad when a player makes a move like that. The real issue is the eventual goal scorer walking down broadway unmarked:
Jared McCann failed to pick up his man, and it’s 1-0 Habs.
As we’ve seen should be Jack Adams leading Mike Sullivan do after goals, the fourth line of ZAR-Blueger-Tanev were put out to bring the energy. They got to work, and less than a minute later it was the Masked man Zarro tying things up.
ZACH ASTON-REESE (5) Assisted by Blueger (7) @ 9:28
This is the energy line the Penguins have been looking for for the last two years. Getting this goal is such a big deal for the mood on the bench. Great quick shot by ZAR, who continues having an impressive season though the critics wish he had 30 goals or something.
Once the game was tied it became a slogfest of penalties and line mixing. At 12:42 Joseph Blandisi and Shea Weber got involved in a scrum for matching minors. Before that 4v4 could finish Max Domi needed a diaper change after a great play by Pettersson and cross-checked Pettersson, who dropped the gloves with Domi sending both of them off for extended periods.
The Penguins would get a powerplay for about a minute before Kris Letang would get called for tripping and we went back to 4v4. That lasted without any events, the game finally went to 5v5 for a brief two minutes before Shea Weber slashed Jared McCann and the Pens went to the powerplay for the last 26 seconds of the period. They wouldn’t score on the abbreviated powerplay.
The Penguins came ready to play in the first period, the same could not be said for the second. Three minutes in, Kris Letang served up a P-H-A-T turnover right in front of Murray, who wasn’t at his best to bail out the defender.
This is definitely one that Matt Murray would want back, but blaming this goal on Murray takes away from the turnover created by Letang. I would blame Murray a lot more, but the saves he made the rest of the second period while the team in front of him decided to stay on vacation bails him out a bit. Immediately after the goal, the Canadiens went to the powerplay but the killers got it done. After that kill, the Penguins may or may not have been on the ice. There was a Penguin powerplay at the midpoint but you’d be hardpressed to find someone who remembers anything about it. A Jack Johnson penalty 12 minutes in gave the Habs another chance to snag a two-goal lead but Murray was sharp when he needed to be. By the time the period was finished, the Penguins were extremely lucky to only be down by one.
Why is Mike Sullivan such a good coach? Because he gets the proper response out of his players when he needs to. After watching his team shit the bed in the second, Mike Sullivan likely went full Letterkenny in the lockerroom
As we’ve seen time and time again, Sullivan got the response from the troops that he wanted. The team that took the ice in the third looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins with something to prove, and it took a Vezina effort from Price to kee the Habs in it. Five minutes into the frame the pressure was too much, a shot from the point was tipped wide by Malkin and the pesky little sunuvabitch Bryan Rust was there to bury the ricochet off the boards.
BRYAN RUST (17) Assisted by Malkin (28) & Johnson (5) @ 5:24
Bryan Rust’s current production pace could be cut in half, and he would still finish the final 41 games with 26 points. If he continues at this ridiculous pace of 1.2 points per game, he is going to finish with 52 points in the final 41 games. Good Lawd.
The rest of the period was wide-open hockey, without a doubt the most exciting sport on television yesterday, please like my sport. Both teams went flat out and both goaltenders stood on their heads. Matt Murray was tested throughout the period but made some big-time saves, including this gem on a breakaway
For all the rough starts Murray has had, this was the period he needed. On the other end of the ice, the Penguins couldn’t beat Price again and we were heading to overtime. You want to talk about getting a response from your team? The Penguins out-chanced the Habs 21-13 in the period. A third period, on the road, trailing by one, and they just went to it.
Off the opening faceoff, the Habs had an incredible chance as Kris Letang fell but Murray was there to bail him out this time. Thankfully, Letang didn’t take a penalty this time and we stayed at 3v3. After the first line went off Sullivan went with those damn energy boys again, and Brandon Tanev and Teddy Blueger just embarrassed the Habs. They got Nick Suzuki to bite on a play that resulted in a quick 2 on 1, but Price was there. 10 seconds later they did the exact same play, Suzuki did the exact same thing, and this time Blueger drove it to the net and Brandon Tanev cleaned up the garbage.
BRANDON TANEV (8) Assisted by Blueger (8) & Pettersson (14) @ 1:49
To cap it off, Tanev celebrated by punching the glass in front of a Habs fans who flicked him off. Big Tanev Energy. Get bent.
- Matt Murray with a stellar performance turning in a .929 save percentage. Gives him two consecutive starts of with over .915 save percentages. The second goal was meh, the rest of the second period stole the game
- Alex Galchenyuk again fails to impress Sullivan. During the third period Sullivan replaced Galchenyuk with Kahun, and that was a big factor in why the Pens changed the game so much. I would look for a Kahun-Malkin-Rust first line tonight.
- First half of the season in the books, and this team is gearing up to get healthy and make a serious run at the chalice.
- The Pens play at 5 PM tonight against the Panthers for some reason.