Following a rough back-to-back over the weekend the Penguins went back to work last night in New Joisey to take on the Devils. As has become the custom of the 2019-2020 Penguins, they announced an injury prior to the game. Mike Sullivan reported that Nick Bjugstad is again out, this time week-to-week, but not due to his previous injury that kept him out 54 games. With Bjugstad out, and no update on Dom Simon or Zach Aston-Reese, the Penguins lines up as follows:
Despite the poor showing over the weekend, and with the exception of Bjugstad, Mike Sullivan rolled the same line combinations as he tries to give his team with three new forwards time to find chemistry.
The weekend games left everyone in the fanbase on edge, and that uneasiness was not washed away early in the first. The Devils came out controlling play while the Penguins once again looked for an additional pass instead of taking shots. Fortunately for the Penguins, Murray was sharp early to keep the game scoreless. Around the 7 minute mark, the Pens registered their first shot of the game. A minute later, Evan Rodrigues used a little patience before sniping Mackenzie Blackwood to oblivion.
EVAN RODRIGUES (6) Assisted by McCann (21) @ 8:29
The New Jersey broadcast attempted to downplay this shot by saying it was deflected but I’m 99.999% sure that is not the case. This was a start to what would be the most noticeable game Rodrigues would have in a Penguins sweater.
Following the goal, the Penguins showed some signs of life for two minutes until Jack Johnson took a delay of game penalty by throwing the puck over the glass. The Devils powerplay went to work, and Matt Murray was hashtagnotgood
With the way the team has been playing, this is a save you want your goalie to make.
The goal deflated the Penguins a bit, and the Devils added salt to the wound three minutes later by putting the Penguins on the powerplay. Mark Recchi and his Inspector Gadget watch weren’t able to get the powerplay rolling, and we went back to 5v5 play for the final 3 minutes of the first. Neither team would find the back of the net and we finished the period like we started.
The Penguins got to work to start the second period. After a few good looks on goal, it was Justin Schultz pinching in at an appropriate time. Malkin hit Schultz in the middle of the ice and Justin briefly took us back to 2016.
JUSTIN SCHULTZ (3) Assisted by Malkin (49) & Rust (29) @ 4:15
This is such a big goal for Schultz, his first since returning from injury. His legs may not be what they used to be, but if he can start getting some confidence back with his offensive game that can only bode well for the team. This was Schultz’s 50th career goal. After putting up 12 in his first full season with the Pens where he played 78 games, the defender has been hit with injury after injury. Schultz has scored just 9 goals in the last three years while playing just over 56% (138) of the team’s games during that span.
The best way to keep a game from getting out of control against the Penguins is to take a penalty, and Jack Hughes did just that three minutes later. The Pens powerplay actually looked really good this time, with Schultz at the quarterback. They held the puck in the zone for the entire two minutes and had several looks on goal. Unfortunately, they couldn’t score and as the period expired Jack Hughes got a breakaway leaving the box. Murray got a tiny bit of blocker on it and the puck rang off the pipe, preventing what would’ve been a yinzer explosion.
A few minutes later the Devils went back to the penalty box to serve a too many men penalty. This powerplay attempt for the Pens wasn’t as dominant, and the result was the same. The remaining five minutes played out as scoreless 5v5 and we went to the locker room 2-1.
The third period would kick off with a Sidney Crosby high sticking penalty three minutes in. This was one of several forgettable moments for Crosby, who had a pretty awful game even if we judge it by regular standards and not his baseline. Speaking of forgettable nights, Kris Letang decided this would be a great time to take one of his classic penalties for bitching. It is still way too easy to get under Letang’s skin, and the Devils went on a 5 on 3. The Penguins penalty killers went to work and kept the game 2-1, with Murray standing tall when needed. This was a crucial kill for the Penguins, it’s not hard to imagine that allowing a goal on this opportunity results in a completely different game. Rust and Blueger both turned out huge blocks, and Murray was solid.
Following the kill, the Pens got back to their game slowly while the Devils kept getting scoring chances. Two minutes after the kill, Evgeni Malkin decided enough was enough as he carried the puck in the zone and made Blackwood give up a goal that I was told only Murray would give up.
EVGENI MALKIN (24) Assisted by Letang (29) @ 7:11
In my opinion, everyone should be given a Big Gulp from 7-11 after number 71 scored at 7:11. This was the play you want to see from Geno, in a game where his captain didn’t have it going on, Malkin again rises to the occasion.
Shortly after the goal, Evan Rodrigues continued his strong night and almost put the Pens up 3.
The good feelings didn’t last long, however, as best pornstar name Miles Wood streaked down the ice three minutes later and fired a bullet behind Murray.
The play started when Brian Dumoulin fired a pass at about 150 miles per hour to Patrick Marleau who was ten feet away from him. Marleau was in no position to receive the pass and fumbled it immediately. Kris Letang got caught in no man’s land as the puck was floated over his head and to the stick of the streaking Wood. It isn’t often that both players on the top pair make a mistake at the same time, but you can bet if they do it will likely result in a goal.
Fortunately for the Penguins, Evgeni Malkin was not leaving new Jersey without a win and three minutes later he pounced on a loose puck before picking his spot for his second of the night.
EVGENI MALKIN (25) Unassisted @ 13:18
Just another three-point night for Malkin, nothing to see here as he earns points 72, 73 and 74 to surpass last years total. Not enough is being said about Malkin’s game this season, how he has started playing a 200-foot game. I know a lot of his struggle last year involved being on the ice with Jack Johnson, but still, what he has done this year is damn impressive and if you only followed hotheads on Twitter you wouldn’t even know he has played a game. This marks the 10th time in his 14 year career the Russian sniper has hit the 25 goal mark, and in two of the four years he didn’t, he was held to 43 and 31 games. Geno has failed to score 25 goals when playing more than 50 games in a season just twice.
Ten seconds after the goal the Devils took a penalty that Evan Rodrigues drew, his 900th drawn penalty since joining the team. The Penguins powerplay continued looking good but couldn’t get a goal. You get that sense that the team is due for a huge 4/4 powerplay night coming up soon. The game went back to 5v5 the rest of the way. The Devils pulled their goalie, Jack Johnson took out a ref, and Kris Letang fired it from behind Murray and into the empty cage.
KRIS LETANG (15) Unassisted @ 18:45
***Imagine puck going into empty net***
Time would tick down and the Penguins would not allow another goal.
- Zucker and Sheary had a strong game, possibly their best since Sheary rejoined the team. As mentioned, Crosby was off all night, and we can only pray he isn’t dealing with an injury because if he is, it is making a noticeable difference. Crosby finished with 11:52 5v5 TOI and put up just 7 scoring chances for while allowing 13 against.
- The fourth line did what they do best, and Mike Sullivan rewarded them with more 5v5 ice time than any of the other lines. The Tanev-Blueger-Lafferty trio finished with 10:15 of 5v5 time and suppressed the Devils to just 5 scoring chances while putting up 11 of their own
- Not surprising, the best line for the Pens at even strength was the Malkin line, with a whopping 12 scoring chances for and just 3 against in 8:37 of 5v5 time. Malkin, individually was on the ice for 11:25 at 5v5 and was a wrecking ball, 19 scoring chances for to just 4 against.
- By far the most noticeable game from Evan Rodrigues, and the third line as a whole looked much better in this game than recent ones.
- In terms of defense, the Marino Pettersson pairing benefitted a lot by playing with the Malkin line. That pairing put up astonishing numbers. Pettersson finished the game with 14 scoring chances for and 4 against while Marino finished with 15 for and 3 against, a corsi of 83.33%
- Metro March continues tomorrow when the Pens visit Columbus