In any other season, you’d get kicked out of your favorite dive bar for suggesting the 35th game of the season was a Statement Game.
No one would blame your bartender for sending the local idiot, you, home for such a suggestion. Some would maybe even cheer at your dismissal. But make no mistake, the whole bar would be relieved.
“There’s enough crazy in the world,” they’d all think. “We don’t need any more of this bullshit.”
And they’d be right. Any other year.
But this year, more than 60% of the way through the season, that’s exactly what this was by the Penguins- a statement game.
Sure, they let their foot off the pedal in the third period and went into a bit of a shell with a 5-1 lead and there was a little bit of late spiciness, but this lineup burying 5(+1) on an Islanders team that’s this good defensively and this good in the goaltending department speaks volumes to the guts this Pens team has going right now.
Now, all of a sudden they’re two points back from first place and are just stringing a bunch of positive results together, even if how they’re getting there isn’t always pretty.
Look out, baby.
With the injuries piling up, there was another change to the Penguins lineup, which saw Mark Jankowski come out of the lineup (COVID protocol, joined on that list by Tanev as well) and Drew O’Connor coming back in. No other changes, save for Jarry getting the nod again.
Here's tonight's lineup that will be taking on the Islanders ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/IPjfOD6QwG
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 27, 2021
Isles lined up like this, with Sorokin getting the start opposite Jarry.
— LinesLinesLines (@CcCMiddleton) March 27, 2021
Took just over 3 minutes for the Penguins to get the first clear chance to get their noses in front when Wahlstrom got the hook for goaltender interference.
They didn’t take advantage of the….man advantage, but under a minute into the ensuing 5v5, they opened the scoring.
PIT –5:48 – Gaudreau; A: Lafferty, Sceviour – 1-0
Great little transition breakout here. Jarry collects the rimmer and diverts it to Pettersson in the corner to break it up the wall. Got a little fortunate with an Islander forechecker blowing a tire, but what a nice little neutral zone tip from Sceviour to deflect it to Lafferty burning through the NZ to take the strong side defender out of the play and create a 2v1.
Lafferty still has a lot to do here and shows a ton of patience to suck Hickey in and open up the passing lane to hit Gaudreau in all alone.
Great to see Freddy G get himself a goal too. He’s been brilliant since getting called up and right now, it doesn’t really matter if it’s the Recent Call Up Jump or actual talent. It’s working.
Also working is Evan Rodrigues.
PIT –10:07 – Rodrigues; A: McCann, Ceci – 2-0
Because under 5 minutes later, he found himself scoring another goal.
Again, the Penguins got a little lucky as the Isles couldn’t handle the Murphy Dump zone exit in the neutral zone. McCann would eventually come off the bench and pick up the grenade, catching the Islanders changing behind the play and just driving right into the heart of the defense.
He fucked up a little bit, but the puck just stayed with him long enough to find ERod jumping off the bench late for a little flubber of a shot that wasn’t too good for its home.
About five minutes later, the Islanders would get their Game Management First Powerplay of the night when Jarry got his stick up in the chops of Cizikas.
The resulting kill was so rock solid that Bob Seger sued it for copyright infringement.
That occurred just in time for the Pens to have to go back to another kill with 48.6 seconds remaining with Lafferty tripping up Wahlstrom. Pens PK told Seger to suck it to get to the first intermission with the 2 goal lead in tact.
Just four shots on goal for the Pens in the first and attempts were 13-9 in favor of the Islanders at 5v5, but sometimes we only give a shit about goals.
Pens PK stood there boldly, sweating in the sun, but told Seger to get that lawsuit right the hell out of its face as they finished the job they started at the end of the first.
The Leddy went to the box just over 4 minutes into the period and boy oh boy did the Penguins come to OD on PDO.
PIT –4:26 – PPG – Crosby; A: Guentzel, Letang – 3-0
No malarky here as the Pens won the draw and got immediately set up. Great look here at Letang walking the line, changing the angle, selling the initial shot to open up the shooting lane and getting it to the net.
Guentzel, for all of his strengths, isn’t usually someone that’s causing chaos in the net mouth like his predecessor. But this time around, he gets a little chaos energy going, keeps it alive, and maybe kicks it out to 87 crashing and cashing.
They’d go back on the PP about a minute later when Mayfield crosschecked Lafferty from behind.
PIT –6:18 – PPG – Rust; A: Crosby, McCann – 4-0
This time around, the process would be a little bit different, but yielded the same result.
The PP NZ drop pass is lame and overplayed, but it didn’t seem like the Isles PK had it scouted and certainly didn’t have Guentzel speed matched as he picked up the drop pass.
Quick little pass at the blue line and he was in deep.
Isles PK collapsed on him, evidently refusing to focus on anyone else. Guentzel with a heady play to reverse it back up high as the collapse came and it got the penalty killers running around.
All that was left was moving the puck quickly before they could re-establish their structure, which is exactly what Letang, McCann, and Crosby did before 87 found Rust ghosting into the slot and beating Sorokin fivehole.
Two goals in 1:52. End of Sorokin’s night. He joined the Cavalier in Hell.
PIT –8:21 – Rust; A: Letang, Guentzel – 5-0
Didn’t take long for the Pens to welcome Varlamov to the Thunderdome, either.
On the next shift for the 59-87-17 unit, it was Guentzel getting in on the forecheck, getting Varly tied up with Pulock, and forcing the turnover. Just a gritty, gritty effort from Jake all around.
Digs it out, gets it to the point again as the Islanders tried to collapse on him down low. All five Islanders skaters here are below the faceoff circles, four blow the dots, when Jake moves it up high to Letang.
Great hands here from Rust, too, as he gets the initial deflection, keeps the rebound alive, then buries it shelf on the backhand.
NYI –10:47 – Barzal; A: N/A – 5-1
Pens were cruising, but a little bad luck with the top line gave the Islanders their chance to break the shutout.
Barzal did just that.
Tough break on the end-around here as the puck eluded everyone all the way around and out of the zone.
The Pens defensemen were changing behind the play, almost got caught with too many men, and left Letang on an absolute…island.
Looked like 58 may have had a line on the puck/Barzal, but it was never really the case. What a player Barzal is.
That’d be the end of the excitement for the 2nd frame. New York threaten with a little flurry on the last shift, but the Pens survived in an otherwise Pittsburgh dominated period.
Pens controlled shot attempts 17-13 and 9-5 in scoring chances at 5v5 to go along with the special teams fun.
Little rat shit from Martin to start the period to go along with the Islanders trying to give a good account of themselves heading into Monday.
That included getting themselves another goal.
NYI –5:23 – Beauvillier; A: Barzal, Leddy – 5-2
Tough to really complain too much about a team sitting back with a 5-1 lead, but the big thing here was not getting the puck in deep enough to eat up some clock.
That gave the Isles a chance to take control, wait for Barzal to hop off the bench and take Leddy’s quick hit after sucking in the Pens forechecker.
It feels like time Barzal gets a head of steam, a defender looks like they have him pinned and primed to turn the puck over.
Then, he’s behind that defender in the blink of an eye and in on goal. Great acceleration and edgework here to get around Pettersson and straight to the net, forcing Jarry into a save and Beauvillier there to bang home the rebound.
Both teams would go on to trade off powerplay chances in the back 9 of the period. Rust would get called for an elbow on the Penguins PP to negate it.
NYI –17:33 – Eberle; A: Nelson, Bailey – 5-3
On the 4v4, Trotz would get Varlamov out of the net to make it a makeshift powerplay and make things interesting.
Isles got set up. Nelson and Eberle weren’t on the scoresheet yet, so you know that just had to happen. Whatever.
PIT – 19:18 – ENG – Rust; A: N/A – 6-3
That led into what would end up being a 6v4 with Rust still in the box and before you could finish your super water to talk about how this game wasn’t over, Rust would get out of the box and absolutely end it.
- Crosby, Guentzel, Rust and Letang remain at the top of the food chain. The Crosby line got caved in at 5v5, only attempting 4 shots and giving up 13, but multipoint efforts out of all 4 makes that a lot more palatable.
- To that end, ten different players with a point for the Pens.
- Matheson, Lafferty, and Sceviour with big response games at 5v5 to their rough play over the last stretch. Matheson with a 14-7 on-ice shot attempt game (66.67%) and 7-2 in scoring chances (77.78%). Same deal for Sceviour in the shot attempts to go with a 10-2 game in scoring chances. And for Lafferty, 12-6 and 8-2 respectively.
Probably playing with house money on Monday running it back against these guys. Do it again.
All data via Natural Stat Trick.