Is Father Time catching up with Evgeni Malkin?
Did Bryan Rust forget how to play hockey?
Is Chad Ruhwedel on track to win the Norris trophy?
The Penguins finally found themselves in the win column after their afternoon tilt with the Washington Capitals, defeating them 4-3 in the shootout.
With a 50-44 edge in shot attempts, the Penguins also had a slight edge in expected goals (2.34-2.23, Evolving Hockey).
At 5v5, shot attempts were dead-even between the two teams, but the Penguins controlled 57.1% of the scoring chances and 56.3% of the high-danger chances. (Natural Stat Trick).
This game brought our first Juuso Riikola sighting of the year due to a Mike Matheson injury that is expected to keep him out “longer term” per Mike Sullivan.
Chad Ruhwedel made his second consecutive start on the third-pairing in place of Cody Ceci.
Casey DeSmith made his first start of the season after relieving Tristan Jarry in the Penguins’ 5-2 loss to Philadelphia on Friday.
No changes were made up front with the forwards.
Lined up and ready for our home opener. pic.twitter.com/nqMXhtWzWv
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 17, 2021
PIT Goal – Rodrigues (1) A: Dumoulin, Guentzel [0:19] – 1-0 PIT
The Penguins struck 19 seconds into the game when Evan Rodrigues used his skates to redirect a Brian Dumoulin pass between Ilya Samsonov’s legs to the back of the net.
It was a bit poetic that Rodrigues scored so quickly into the game after many Penguins fans, myself included, were so hard on his performance on the top line. Coming into the game, he led all Penguins forwards in 5v5 ice time.
The Penguins spent the next 10 minutes playing with fire, mainly due to an inability to break out of the defensive zone.
WSH Goal – Dowd (1) Unassisted [12:04] – 1-1
The Capitals were able to tie the game when Sam Lafferty picked up the puck behind the Penguins’ net and threw it directly to the slot. Nic Dowd was crashing the net when Lafferty’s error ended up right on his blade. He backhanded a shot that made its way through DeSmith and just barely crossed the goal line.
WSH Goal – Ovechkin (1) A: Kuznetsov, Wilson [14:24] – 2-1 WSH
After what looked like a momentum-swinging shift from the Crosby-line, Ovechkin picked up his first of the season and the 707th of his career.
Toward the end of the shift, Crosby lost control of his stick forcing the Penguins to regroup. Crosby kicked the puck back into the Penguins’ zone to get it out of harm’s way, but defenseman John Marino was swarmed by Tom Wilson. Wilson corralled the puck and dished it to Evgeny Kuznetsov as he flew into the zone, drawing the attention of the Penguins defenders. He tried forcing a pass to Ovechkin but it was blocked by a flailing Marcus Pettersson. The puck ended up right in the middle of the crease for Ovechkin to bang home a backhander to take the lead.
PIT Goal – Sceviour (1) A: Blueger [2:10] – 2-2
TELL GOALIES TO STOP PLAYING THE PUCK.
The Penguins capitalized when Samsonov turned the puck over to Teddy Blueger in the corner, who quickly dished to Colton Sceviour with a wide-open net. Sceviour one-timed the puck off the inside of the back of the net.
The play went to review, one of the longest reviews I can remember, as it appeared that the puck might have hit the cross bar and stayed out. That wasn’t the case. Tie game.
WSH PP Goal – Backstrom (2) A: Kuznetsov, Ovechkin [10:09] – 3-2 WSH
The Penguins found themselves in a 4-on-3 penalty kill situation halfway through the period when Kuznetsov slipped a pass by Kris Letang to an uncovered Nicklas Backstrom at the back door. He made no mistake and directed it past DeSmith to retake the lead.
PIT Goal – Pettersson (1) A: Zucker, Rust [12:57] – 3-3
The Penguins didn’t take long to answer. Off a beautiful feed from Jason Zucker, Pettersson wired home a wrist shot from the high slot to tie the game at three apiece.
Both teams were unable to break the deadlock during the third period. I was a bit surprised at the lack of urgency, especially considering every loss this season is two points for a team you’re battling for a playoff spot with.
The Penguins controlled most of the five-minute extra frame. It wasn’t until the latter stages where things picked up, but man was it exciting watching these teams trade chances up and down the ice.
Neither team could find the back of the net, forcing the dreaded shootout. There is nothing worse than an exciting overtime followed up by a shootout. Can somebody say anticlimactic?
Jake Guentzel was the lone goal-scorer of the shootout. It came in the fourth round after six Penguins and Capitals skaters were unable to solve the opposing goaltender.
Letang, Crosby and Malkin all had rather uninspiring attempts. It was a bit jarring to see them go 0-for-3 in such pedestrian fashion.
Guentzel’s tally was masterful. After a giant leg kick to fake a wrist shot, Guentzel went forehand-backhand and slipped the puck five-hole on a sliding Samsonov. Bingo.
FINAL: 4-3 PIT (SO)
- Evgeni Malkin has been a ghost through the Penguins’ first three games. He’s been rather disinterested at 5v5 and won’t shoot the puck on the powerplay, though that isn’t a problem specific to him. It’s possible that father time is catching up to Malkin, who turns 35 later this year. I’m not writing him off by any means, but Penguins fans don’t realize how spoiled they were last season when Malkin had one of the best seasons of his career at age 33.
- Bryan Rust has been invisible as well. Typically one of the more noticeable Penguins skaters, I’ve rarely noticed Rust rushing the puck up ice and into the zone with the same tenacity and ferocity that we’ve all become accustomed to. He seems to be struggling with the puck on his stick. Whether it’s been passing, catching passes, or even carrying the puck, Rust hasn’t looked comfortable in the slightest. Penguins fans were warned he was due for a regression this season, but it might be even worse than the alarmists forecasted.
- Chad Ruhwedel played a hell of a game today and has looked like one of the Penguins’ better defensemen in the two games he’s dressed for. His highlight of the day was shutting down the greatest goal-scorer of all-time in a 1-on-1 rush situation in smooth fashion. The Penguins controlled 62.5% of the shot attempts and 85.8% of the expected goals with him on the ice at even strength today (Evolving Hockey). No, he isn’t going to win the Norris trophy, or come anywhere close, but his performance should be more than enough to keep Cody Ceci from seeing the ice anytime soon.
- I reckon the Penguins go back to DeSmith in goal on Tuesday. He gave up three goals, but it’s hard to fault him for any of them. He made a number of important saves and kept the Penguins alive as they seemed to be fighting an uphill battle most of the game.
Same teams, same place, Tuesday night.
Thanks for reading! Let’s talk hockey on Twitter. Follow me on Twitter @shireyirving.
All data from Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick