The Penguins have put together four consecutive wins for what might be one of the most uninspiring winning streaks in recent memory. It took six games, but they finally have their first regulation win after beating the New York Rangers 3-2 Sunday night.
It might shock you to learn that the Penguins are now second place in the East division and trail the first place Washington Capitals by a single standings point.
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Penguins deserve some credit for stacking some wins over a span of games in which they occasionally looked lifeless and disoriented.
They’ve bought themselves a little extra time to find their groove, but there are a couple sore spots that are becoming serious problems.
The Rangers took 53 shot attempts to the Penguins’ 48 while controlling 59% of the scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. Shots on goal were 25-19 in favor of the Rangers.
Evolving Hockey gives the Rangers a hefty advantage in expected goals as well, 3.01-1.78. There wasn’t a whole lot of offense in this one, but the Rangers had some major chances they failed to convert on that ultimately cost them the game.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan opted to shuffle his forward lines for this tilt.
Jared McCann was promoted to top-six duty with Evgeni Malkin while Teddy Blueger centered Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen on the third line.
Mark Jankowski and Brandon Tanev down to the fourth line.
No changes were made on D.
Tristan Jarry got the nod in goal again.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 24, 2021
NYR Goal – Blackwell (1) A: Fox, Howden [16:36] 1-0 NYR
The Rangers tallied the lone goal of the first period from an Adam Fox point shot that was beautifully redirected by Colin Blackwell. I love the way Fox acts like he’s walking to center with the puck right before he loads and fires.
Not much Jarry or the Pens could do on this one.
PIT Goal – Rust (2) A: Crosby [11:24] 1-1
Rust scored his second goal in as many games to tie it up. Stopped on a breakaway earlier in the game, he decided to shoot from the slot rather than making a move in tight and it paid off.
How about that breakout pass from Sidney Crosby? Absolutely masterful.
NYR Goal – Strome (1) A: Trouba, Panarin [17:17] 2-1 NYR
The Penguins got all kinds of discombobulated in their own zone toward the end of the second period and it ended up costing them as Ryan Strome outbattled Cody Ceci and John Marino to bang home some loose change in the crease.
PIT Goal – McCann (2) Unassisted [2:26] 2-2
The Penguins tied it up again on a fluttering half-wall shot from McCann. It looked as though Igor Shesterkin was unable to track the puck until it was too late as he failed to seal off the upper-corner of the net.
It’s nice to see McCann get on the board in back to back games after going so long without scoring, regardless of how wonky both goals were.
PIT Goal – Guentzel (2) A: Letang, Crosby [18:29] 3-2 PIT
The final tally of the game went to Jake Guentzel with just a minute and a half left in regulation.
After a clean zone entry from Crosby, he dished the puck to Kris Letang who maneuvered to the outside, opening a seam for Guentzel to slide in and fire home a one-timer through the wickets of Shesterkin.
This goal reminded me a lot of Guentzel’s third goal in his infamous four-goal game against Philadelphia in the 2018 playoffs. Back-foot one-timer from the high slot under the goalie’s pads.
FINAL: 3-2 PIT
- It was nice to see pucks start to find the back of the net with Crosby on the ice at 5v5. The Penguins have been generating a lot of quality offense with him on the ice but don’t have the goals to show for it. He was the Penguins’ best player Sunday night and I suspect his on-ice goal scoring won’t lag behind his expected output for much longer.
- Rust was up there with Crosby for best Penguins skaters on the night. Powered by two breakaways, he scored once on five shot attempts. He now has a five-game point streak (2 G, 3 A) and might be in line for more if he sticks with Crosby and Guentzel on the top line due to Evan Rodrigues’ injury.
- Evan Rodrigues left the game and did not return after an open-ice collision with Filip Chytil. Per Sullivan, he is being evaluated for a lower-body injury.
- After an encouraging performance from Malkin Friday night, he turned in another stinker on Sunday. Not only did he fail to register a shot on goal, he didn’t even attempt a shot. The Penguins were outshot 8-3 and controlled just 21.3% of the expected goals with him on the ice at 5v5, per Natural Stat Trick. And, oh yeah, he went three and eight on the dot. The Penguins will go nowhere this season if he continues to sleep walk through games.
- John Marino has looked out of sorts the past couple games but it’s hard to ignore his deployment. He’s playing on his weak side trying to carry a player that has a history of tanking on-ice results. Ceci’s play hasn’t been egregious, but with the emergence of P.O. Joseph, it might be time to look at swapping the two players and getting Marino back to his strong side.
- After a hot start, Jankowski is struggling in a big way, The Penguins have been largely outshot and outchanced with him on the ice over their past four games. He has shown glimpses of being a dynamic offensive player, but with a three-year history of being one of the worst offensive play-drivers in the league, the likelihood of him producing like he did in the Penguins’ first two games is slim to none.
- Jarry was solid again and it looks as if he has re-claimed the net from Casey DeSmith. This was the first time all season the Penguins gave up less than three goals in a game.
The Pens are hitting the road to take on the Boston Bruins Tuesday night.
Thanks for reading! Let’s talk hockey on Twitter. Follow me @shireyirving.
Data from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey