I’ll say this about our Penguins. Win, lose or draw, they sure are fun to watch.
Talk about entertainment. There scarcely was a dull moment during the Pens’ 7-4 rout of New Jersey last night. A victory that, coupled with a Columbus loss, enabled the black and gold to sew up home-ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs.
Although a big win no doubt, the contest had a decidedly un-postseason feel. In a fitting homage to Pens owner Mario Lemieux, the clubs combined for 66 shots on goal, including 38 by the home-standing Devils. Glorious scoring chances flowed like water through a busted flood gate at both ends of the ice.
In short, like so many of the Pens’ recent efforts, the game favored an on-ice track meet of sorts.
Still, while hardly a thing of beauty from a tactical standpoint, it’s tough to argue with the results. The Pens received production from all four lines. Each black-and-gold forward tallied at least one point. In fact, the only Pens who failed to register on the scoresheet were defensemen Ian Cole and Trevor Daley—the latter playing in his first game since February 21.
“Any time you get contributions throughout your lineup it increases your chances of winning games and I think it’s a sign of a real competitive hockey team,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
What the Pens lacked in positional polish, they more than made up for in oomph. Once again, Sid and the Kids paced the attack, racking up two goals and five points on the night. In particular, Conor Sheary’s marker three minutes into the second period off a stunning, no-look, between-the-legs pass from Sidney Crosby, shook the Devils and reaffirmed the trio’s lethality.
Don’t look now, but the fourth line of Carter Rowney centering for Scott Wilson and speedy Josh Archibald is making a statement, too. Thrown together in Mulligan stew fashion, the unit’s collected seven points over a three-game span, including Archibald’s nifty tally from the left faceoff circle at 2:09 of the second. The third goal in eight games for the buzz-saw winger.
Others to tickle the twine? Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel each struck for his 15th goal of the season in the first period to overcome an early one-goal deficit. Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bonino capped the offensive fusillade with power-play goals, sandwiched around a dynamic shorthanded tally by Matt Cullen at 1:56 of the third period.
While hardly Vezina-esque between the pipes, Matt Murray was tough when he had to be, stoning lightning-fast Taylor Hall on a third-period breakaway with the outcome still very much in the balance. “Muzz” stopped 34 shots despite numerous coverage lapses by his teammates to earn his 31st win. In the process, securing the coveted home-ice advantage for the locals.
“We’re happy playing on home ice,” said Bonino. “You need every advantage you can get.”
Evgeni Malkin accompanied the team on the road trip. He may play in one of the final two regular-season games this weekend.
Dominik Simon was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 67 games with the Baby Pens, the 22-year-old forward tallied 14 goals and 45 points. He was a healthy scratch, along with defensemen Cameron Gaunce and Mark Streit.
Among the wounded, heavyweight forward Tom Sestito participated in a full practice. Defenseman Olli Maatta also took part, albeit with no contact.