Sidney Crosby | Goal, 3 Assists
Daniel Sprong | 2 Goals, Assist
Dominik Simon | 2 Assists
Tristan Jarry | 31 Save Shutout
Lose 4-0 to the Hurricanes with a dud performance on home-ice, come back the next night with a dominating 4-0 win over the Islanders on the road.
The last two games were the Penguins season in a nutshell.
Because of their struggles to even win consecutives games over the last five weeks, you don’t want to have an overreaction to the Penguins great performance Friday night against the Islanders but there were some promising developments:
1. The Penguins played with a playoff mindset and you saw them take over the game in the second period by winning all three zones. Pittsburgh gave up 30 scoring chances in the game and there was still some defensive blunders from the likes of Kris Letang, Ian Cole, but there was a commitment level away from the puck that has been badly missing all season from the forward group on down. You had players supporting each other defensively instead of standing around and puck watching.
That was good to see.
“We’ve got to have a playoff mindset right now and I thought we had it tonight,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought we competed hard.”
Pittsburgh took control of the game in the second period.
After an even first period, Pittsburgh got goals from Daniel Sprong and Evgeni Malkin 3:30 into the second period to jump out to a 2-0 lead and then Sidney Crosby made it 3-0 at 15:50 of the period.
The Islanders are one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the NHL and during 5-on-5 play in the second period, the Penguins out-attempted New York 21-7 with 16-4 edge in shots, 12-3 advantage in scoring chances and 7-0 edge in high danger chances.
The Penguins would out-score the Islanders 2-0 in the second period at 5-on-5 and 3-0 overall in the game.
2. Sidney Crosby has awaken, at least for one night. Crosby put on a dazzling 4-point performance in recording his 31st career 4-point game.
The Simon – Crosby – Sprong line looked like they played together for years.
The continuity from the three in supporting the puck in the offensive zone was really impressive for a line that was just put together. A lot of times when you put skilled players together, they can figure it out. New York had no answers for the line.
The great numbers in just about every category also met the eye test:
3 Goals For, 0 Goals Against at Even Strength for the Simon-Crosby-Sprong line and around 90% Possession.
Sidney Crosby when on the ice with Daniel Sprong: The Penguins had 3 Goals For, 26 Shot Attempts/3 Against, 18-2 Scoring Chances, 6-0 High Danger Chances:
Sidney Crosby when on the ice with Dominik Simon: The Penguins had 3 Goals For, 24 Shot Attempts/3 Against, 17-2 Scoring Chances, 6-0 High Danger Chances.
What the big night from the line did was make the Islanders best players have to play in their end far too often.
With Crosby matched up against John Tavares, shot attempts were 11/2 Pittsburgh and 9-1 Pittsburgh with the Crosby/Barzal matchup.
3. Daniel Sprong showed the element he can add the Penguins can’t get from a number of other forwards:
Elite finish ability around the net.
What frustrates the Penguins with Phil Kessel’s play away from the puck is that they feel the effort is often lacking. At least so far from Sprong’s end, Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"
4. The Penguins have struck gold the past two seasons in young impact forwards emerging on the scene that they weren’t necessarily counting on. Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary in 2015-2016 and then Jake Guentzel last season in how good he was so quickly in being a legitimate top-6 winger and premier goal scorer in the playoffs.
If Daniel Sprong proves his worth as a top-9 forward over the next several weeks it changes a lot in what the Penguins may do with moving a key winger in a trade and even more so if Dominik Simon plays with consistency and sticks.
I still wouldn’t write off Simon. He’s not going to bury a lot of pucks at the NHL level but the playmaking ability and how he drives possession has been one consistent. This wasn’t the first game he fit in well with Crosby.
5. The other significant development from the Islanders game is the goaltending from Tristan Jarry. The Islanders had a few golden opportunities in the first period to strike first and who knows how this game goes if Jarry didn’t shut the door early and the Penguins fall behind.
Is Tristan Jarry for real and a legitimate No. 1 goaltender?
Maybe, maybe not…..
So many young goaltenders who are considered tweeners (somewhere in between a No. 1/No.2 goaltender) like Jarry, come onto the scene with a great month and then eventually tail off and fall back to what most scouts, executives feel they would be.
An unproven backup outplaying a franchise goaltender for stretches is nothing new around the NHL.
It happened a couple times in Chicago with Corey Crawford/Scott Darling, a few times in New York during different seasons recently with Cam Talbot, Antti Raanta outplaying Henrik Lundqvist and taking away some starts.
Jarry’s performance has caught the organization by surprise in how consistent he’s been but there’s also some caution being expressed internally.
Instead of trying to stir up a goaltending controversy, which the Penguins don’t have, what many should be doing is embracing that the Penguins goaltending looks to be in very good hands long-term.
Many are jumping the gun in burying Matt Murray. He is eventually going to start looking like Matt Murray again. It’s hard to imagine he’s going to keep playing at this level. If he still is by March, the Penguins will probably miss the playoffs.
Maybe he’ll never be a guy like Marc Andre Fleury who is built to play 65 games in the regular season, but he’s proven he’s built for the playoffs which is what matters at the end of the day.
There’s too much good tape from him the last two seasons to start questioning him over a rough start to the season. There’s ice in this guys veins during high pressure situations.
Just look back to Games 6, 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs the Lightning, and close out games vs the Sharks and Predators of the past two Stanley Cup Final.
The key for Murray in the short-term is fixing his angles and getting back to playing big where the net looks so small to the opposition and opponents feel they have to make a perfect shot to beat him. He’s overplaying shooters right now.
As for who starts Sunday night vs Boston, that’s where things get interesting.
Tristan Jarry deserves to get the start but with the bye coming up (Jan 8-12), Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"