The Penguins were back in Pittsburgh last night looking to kick off the month of March in a completely different fashion than they ended February. February is the dumbest month on the calendar. Nobody is ever like “man I can’t wait for February!” Now it is over, and the proverbial March of the Penguins begins. The first opponent in the path was the Ottawa Senators.
In the days leading up to the game the Penguins announced that Dominik Simon would be out week to week with a lower-body injury, minutes before the game Brandon Tanev was scratched due to illness. On the positive front, Brian Dumoulin and John Marino both returned. With the added reinforcements the team lined up as such.
Sticks down, puck down, John Marino continues his climb to the Yinzer Hall of Fame.
JOHN MARINO (6) Assisted by Malkin (43) & Zucker (18) @ 0:48
Head up the whole way. Any worries that the shield would be a hindrance on Marino’s vision were erased in the first minute as Marino continues to show his offensive awareness. You simply can’t do anything but smile for this kid. Before most people could make a witty tweet about Marino scoring more than Johnson did in February Brian Dumoulin decided he would make his presence felt early as well. After receiving the puck at the point Dumoulin put a perfect pass on Conor Sheary’s stick who busted down and looked for Crosby at the top of the paint. A rare miss by Crosby resulted in a fortunate bounce and a quick 2-0 lead.
CONOR SHEARY (10) Assisted by Dumoulin (7) & Letang (28) @ 1:39
If you want to know what the difference is with good defenders playing top minutes it is this play. This is one hell of a pass by Dumoulin. When Dumo receives this puck this is his view of things:
The majority of NHL defenders are either throwing this puck on net, which is a fair play considering the open path, or dumping it around the boards. Brian Dumoulin, with his head up the whole way, takes his time and pulls up a bit to see what Sheary does. In that split second, Sheary makes the proper move and the play develops:
The great play by Dumoulin aside, a big difference between this game and the last 5 (not counting San Jose) is this Sheary shot bounced the right way.
The Penguins couldn’t maintain their pace of scoring every 50 seconds and the game settled down for a little bit until Jack Johnson was called for interference at 4:25. The Senators powerplay was about as efficient as a Senator in office and the Pens easily killed it.
Following the kill, the game went to 5v5 for 7 minutes of Penguins domination. Craig Anderson had to make several good saves to keep the Pens from going up 3-0 early. At 13:18 Bobby Ryan was called for holding a beer and the Pens powerplay went to work. The powerplay had some looks but couldn’t get anything in.
After going back to 5v5 the Senators cashed in when the newly formed Justin Schultz and Jack Johnson pairing was taken for a ride.
The initial shot went through more bodies than Coronavirus and Murray had no hope of tracking it. Off the post, off his back, and Hawryluk walked to the net and tapped it in.
Nikita Zaitsev celebrated the goal by taking a hooking penalty a minute later. The Penguins powerplay went back to work. What looked like a broken play near the corner resulted in Evgeni Malkin having pure determination to win the puck and get it to Bryan Rust. Rust used the patience of a saint before picking his spot.
BRYAN RUST (25) Assisted by Malkin (44) & Crosby (29) @ 19:15 PPG
Patric Hornqvist with the behind the scenes hustle to get this goal in the net before setting the screen for Rust. You can’t say enough about the will of Evgeni Malkin on this play. He just casually handles a bouncing puck through two defenders like it is cardboard Orpik while determining his next play. As for Rust, this is a shot by a confident goal scorer. This is Rust 2020.
The Penguins would carry the 3-1 lead to the room.
Despite what felt like Penguins domination int he first period, they finished that frame with just 8 5v5 scoring chances for and 13 against. The second period was just the opposite. It was complete Penguins domination but without the results because hockey is weird. Six minutes in Tierney took a Harvey Weinstein favorite double-minor penalty for high sticking Crosby. The Penguins spent the following four minutes of powerplay time trying to enter the zone.
After the expiration of that advantage, we went to 5v5 for two minutes before Sam Lafferty was called for tripping. The Senators powerplay was as threatening as the Penguins and that was also quickly killed. It looked like the period would end with no goals despite the Penguins 21 5v5 scoring chances. That was until Conor Sheary made a slick pass from behind the net to Crosby. Sid put the puck on net and Sheary almost got a tap in rebound but no dice. The rebound was fought for by Zucker, who made a pass from his stomach back to Sid. Crosby fake pumped once then fired it to the crease off some Senators and in.
SIDNEY CROSBY (14) Assisted by Zucker (19) @ 17:21
Another big difference between this game and the previous 5, this puck wasn’t bouncing off the defenders and going in.
Neither team would score in the remaining minutes and the Pens took a 4-1 lead to the room.
The Pens taking a lead into the third was nice for a change. The first line wasted no time making that lead bigger when Crosby hit Sheary entering the zone, and Sheary made a great pass to a breaking Zucker.
JASON ZUCKER (20) Assisted by Sheary (11) & Crosby (30) @ 0:36
A few posts ago I talked about the Penguins using the classic three-man weave drill to generate opportunities. This is essentially that same drill 5-year-olds all over the world are running. The pass from Sheary is very good, it’s a shame he will not be as good as Dominik Kahun was on the third line. For Crosby, this was assist number 800 in game number 980. He becomes the 6th fastest player to the total:
If you’re wondering, Crosby is currently ranked 32nd all-time in assists and 39th all-time in points.
The good feelings were taken away shortly after the Zucker goal when Tkachuk took a shot from the point and deflected it off his dick and into the goal. Four minutes after the Conor Sheary was called for hooking and the Sens had a chance to make it interesting. Unfortunately for the Chabot took a tripping penalty 40 seconds into the powerplay to send it to 4v4.
The 4v4 and ensuing 40 second Penguin powerplay didn’t result in much. 9:23 into the period Dumoulin was called for hooking. The Senators got their best looks as the penalty expired, and 4 seconds after Dumo stepped back on the ice Brown made it 5-3.
The Pens fans that were still crying over a losing streak in February furiously went to Twitter to attack the lack of heart of this team while Patty Marleau made a nice drop pass to Malkin at the blue line. Geno got the biscuit back to Marleau who was now sitting at the crease. He couldn’t get the job done but the rebound popped out to the man who we knew wouldn’t score 30 goals.
BRYAN RUST (26) Assisted by Marleau (11) & Malkin (45) @ 13:29
This is an underrated play by Marleau. First, notice that he makes eye contact with Malkin before attempting a drop pass at the blue line. This isn’t the class Geno “surprise” drop pass. Second, he gets on his horse and breaks to the goal. This is a play a veteran who thinks the game at a different level makes, and it results in a scoring chance and ultimately a goal. I also want you to watch the gif and watch Bryan Rust. He is at the blue line and as soon as he sees Geno crossover to the forehand he anticipates what’s happening and starts moving straight to the goal. You cannot watch the Zucker-Crosby goal followed by this one and not get excited. Look out baby.
The game would move on at the pace you would expect a 6-3 game to move at. After about 400 stoppages we were finally under five minutes to play. The Penguins didn’t stop though, they had been the victims of bad luck for 6 straight games and they were getting all of that out of their system. This time they were helped by Craig Andersen returning to the level of suck. Malkin fed the puck to never going to be a 30-goal scorer Bryan Rust and never going to be a 30-goal scorer Bryan Rust drained the hattie.
BRYAN RUST (27) Assisted by Malkin (46) @ 17:10
Malkin with a beastly performance in this one, picking up his fourth assist on the night. In what was his 903rd NHL game, Geno picked up assists 654, 655, 656 and 657 to give him a nice grand total of 1069 career points.
The Senators had no answers and the Penguins would not score in the remaining three minutes.
- John Marino was noticeable the entire night. The kid is just really, really good.
- Mike Sullivan said he wanted to ease Dumoulin into full-time minutes. Jack Johnson left the game in the third when his wife went into labor. Due to the short bench the remaining defenders all flirted with the 20 minute mark as Letang finished with 24
- Speaking of Dumoulin, you can just see the confidence in Kris Letang return with him back there
- The third goal Murray will want back but nothing he can do on the first two.
- Pens take on NHL legend Dominik Kahun and the Sabres tomorrow
- PS- we hired a new writer. Please welcome Danny Shirey to the Pensblog team. You can read his first article about Nick Bjugstad here. Also, give him a follow on Twitter @shireyirving
- I’m not sure I ever gave out my own handle so if you’re into that you can find me on Twitter @admaryland as well