After earning three of a possible four points over the weekend on a tough, and quick, trip out west, the Pittsburgh Penguins returned home to face a struggling Ottawa Senators team.
The Senators have fallen mightily since the two teams clashed in an epic Eastern Conference Finals series just last May.
Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel scored twice and Matt Murray made 30 saves (including many difficult ones through the first two periods) in leading Pittsburgh to their seventh win in nine games.
Despite being outshot early 17-9, Pittsburgh found the back of the net four times on those first nine shots en route to the 6-3 win.
In the Penguins' last nine home games, they're 9-0-0 and have outscored the opposition 51-25. That's 5.67 goals per game.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) February 14, 2018
Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang would add the other two goals for the Penguins, and Sidney Crosby added three assists to lead the scoring barrage.
It would be Guentzel who opened the scoring on the power play just 4:07 into the game. After two failed clearing attempts by the Senators, the puck would find its way on to the stick of Schultz. His shot would be taken out of the air, waist-high by Guentzel from the high slot area to get the Penguins moving.
Murray would help the lead hold up as he made several brilliant saves on Sens forward Matt Duchene in tight. The score remained 1-0 after 20 minutes of play also despite Ottawa outshooting the Penguins 11-4 in the frame.
But eventually, the Senators would find the equalizer in the early stages of the second as a quick transition from the neutral zone by Ottawa resulted in a quick three on three rush. Derick Brassard would rifle a quick slap shot over Murray’s blocker as Schultz was late getting over to his man.
The ex-New York Ranger always has a knack in solving Penguin net-minders.
The tie game wouldn’t last even a minute as Guentzel would strike again. He was able to collect a rebound off of Mike Condon’s leg pad save on Phil Kessel and slam it home for his 18th of the year. Credit Kris Letang, who earned an assist on the play as he quickly took a pass from the corner and fired it towards Condon before Kessel picked it up from there.
For as rough of a start to the year as Letang has had, he is slowly and steadily picking up his game at the right time of year. Less risk, more reward for the veteran defenseman.
Simple is good.
Five minutes later, and at the halfway point of the game, it was time for a bit of video game-like action from Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 14, 2018
That whole sequence was made possible by another Murray save, this time a sliding arm save on Cody Ceci on a quick-developing two on one from inside the Penguins blue-line. One minute later Malkin finished the circus-like play with Hagelin and the Penguins had some breathing room at 3-1.
How many times have we seen that spinning back-hand from Malkin?
It never ceases to amaze.
Watch the pass again by Hagelin; how could he have known Geno would get there?
Hagelin, much like Letang, continues to raise his game and produce on a consistent, nightly basis too. Hopefully the time period of being ‘that guy with a lot of speed to forecheck’ are behind us.
From there, Zach Aston Reese would get his first ever NHL goal a minute and change later. A turnover in the neutral zone by the Sens led to Crosby leading the charge on a three-on-two. Crosby’s pass would hit Ceci’s stick and just make it to Reese, who wristed it through Condon’s five-hole as he awkwardly tried to make the save.
So now Condon’s night was done as Craig Anderson would come in, in relief. A role reversal as it was Condon who spelled Anderson in the Senators previous game which was also a 6-3 loss to Toronto.
As the game was going on, announcers on both the radio and tv side kept mentioning Ottawa having a lot of players on the trade block and how moves were expected to be made. As the second period was winding down, Bob Errey noticed that Sens defenseman Dion Phaneuf was absent from the bench area for Ottawa.
In a conversation with Phil Kessel during a play stoppage, Kessel mentioned that rumblings were going around that Phaneuf was heading to Los Angeles in a trade. Kessel and Phaneuf are friends from their days together in Toronto.
When the trade news in-fact broke during the early to mid-stages of the third, it served as a cool, insider moment that you don’t normally get.
So now, Kessel is not only a two-time Stanley Cup Champion and one of the leading point-getters in the league. He also breaks trade news for other teams before Canadian and American news sources. Whatever Kessel makes for his salary it’s not enough!
The two teams would trade goals the rest of the way (two a-piece) and the night’s scoring would be capped with Aston Reese getting his second via an empty-netter with 1:05 left to play.
The Pittsburgh win coupled with a Washington loss in overtime to Winnipeg leaves the Penguins now just three points off of the lead in the Metro Division.
It was a lite night in the special teams department, but both teams were successful as Ottawa finished 1-for-2 with the man advantage, while Pittsburgh went 1-1.
Zach Aston-Reese is the 511th player to score a regular season goal for the Penguins.
— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) February 14, 2018
The Penguins will stay home for a Thursday night tilt against Dion Phaneuf and his new team, the Los Angeles Kings. Another quirk to a quirky night at PPG Paints Arena. We will have your full coverage of the game at Pittsburgh Sports Castle.
Also watch for an upcoming article authored by me and Brad Britvich (who can be found on Twitter at @britvichb) at the end of the week where we will take a look at a few potential trade targets for the Pens themselves.
Thanks for reading!