The Pittsburgh Penguins are starting to look like the comeback kids after their fourth straight win in which they came from behind to win the game. Sunday night’s tilt against the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena ended 3-2 for the Pens, their first win in regulation this season. After a disappointing start to the season where they dropped back-to-back games against the Flyers, the Pens have now won four straight to boost them into second place in the division.
The team welcomed the Rangers into town on Friday, coming off two big wins against the Caps. The struggling Rangers looked to get on the right track against a thin Pens defense who were without Mike Matheson, Juuso Riikola, and Marcus Pettersson. Filling in for the injured players was Cody Ceci, who had not played a game since the teams’ opener against the Flyers, and Pierre-Olivier Joseph who was recalled from the taxi squad. Joseph made his NHL debut on Friday in the team’s 4-3 shootout win against the Rangers.
The first of the two meetings saw Bryan Rust put the Pens in front midway through the first, before allowing three straight goals to start the second period. Jared McCann scored a powerplay goal to cut the lead to one before Teddy Blueger continued his fine form tying the game in the third. Joseph registered an assist on the goal, his first career NHL point. Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang scored for the Pens in the shootout to lead them to their third-straight victory.
Coach Mike Sullivan juggled his lines a bit in the game, shifting Blueger and Kapanen to the third-line alongside Zucker, and dropped Jankowski and Tanev to the fourth-line alongside Sceviour. Jared McCann was also moved to the second-line alongside Malkin and Rust, as Sullivan looked to get all of his stars going. Some good news for the Pens is that Tristan Jarry was solid in goal against the Rangers making 34 saves in the game and two saves in the shootout.
In the second of the two meetings between these teams, Jarry once again got the better of Igor Shesterkin in a 3-2 victory for the Pens. Bryan Rust and Jared McCann stayed hot each adding another goal, before Guentzel’s game-winner late in the third sent the Rangers home with just one point from two games. The Rangers outshot the Penguins in both meetings, but Jarry stood-tall showing encouraging signs that he may well be on his way to re-finding his form. The team has continued to take steps in the right direction since their poor start to the year, and despite a banged-up defense have found ways to make it work.
Coach Mike Sullivan praised Jarry’s play saying, “Tristan was really solid. He’s had two solid games here, back to back. He’s tracking the puck really well, he’s seeing the puck really well. You can see how he plays the puck when they dump it in. He plays the puck extremely well which helps us. The last two games were really encouraging. He played two solid games for us.”
While Sidney Crosby, Guentzel, and McCann have continued to consistently perform for the Pens, the team is still struggling to get some of their stars going. Bryan Rust looks to have finally shaken off his rust and performed well against the Rangers, as well as Kris Letang who seemed to look more confident and comfortable against the Rangers.
Evgeni Malkin has continued to struggle with just a goal and an assist as well as a minus-4 rating through six games. The team needs their Russian superstar to get going to help improve the offensive production. The 34-year-old had 74 points in 55 games a year ago.
“When he scores a goal or two, his confidence tends to take off, when he doesn’t, he tends to be hard on himself because he cares so much and he wants to help the Penguins win. And he knows that’s how he can help us win. My conversations with (Malkin) to this point is just to encourage him, just to make sure he’s trying to play the game the right way and play on both sides of the puck. When he has the opportunity to shoot the puck, shoot the puck and allow instincts to take over.” Sullivan said about his slumping star.
Jason Zucker has also seen continued struggles in his first full season as a member of the team registering just one assist through six games, and have a minus-2 rating. The former 30-goal scorer was dropped to the third-line as his poor form continues.
Another slumping star is defenseman John Marino, who is coming off an impressive rookie-year which earned him a big payday. The 23-year-old has zero points and is a minus-6 through six games this year. The former sixth-round pick (154th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers had 26 points in 56 games a year ago and finished fourth in points by a rookie defenseman. The former Harvard-defenseman will play a key role for the Pens throughout the year and may be experiencing a sophomore slump.
The injuries, however, have continued to add up for the Pens who lost forward Evan Rodrigues in Sunday’s game in what appeared to be a knee injury. Rodrigues stayed down for quite sometime after an open-ice collision with Rangers forward Filip Chytil. Both players skated off the ice on their own but Rodrigues went straight to the locker room and did not return.
Coach Sullivan provided an update of Rodrigues. “Evan is still being evaluated for a lower-body injury. I don’t have any additional information there.”
As the injuries continue to pile up, it appears that this one may finally throw Kasperi Kapanen onto the team’s top-line replacing Rodrigues. It is likely that one of either Sam Lafferty will draw back into the lineup after a three-game absence, or Drew O’Connor will make his NHL debut.
The Penguins will be back in action on Tuesday night for their first of two meetings against Patrice Bergeron and the Boston Bruins. The Bruins sit fourth in the division just one point back of the Pens as they host them at TD Garden in Boston. Puck drop is at 7PM EST.