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Back on Track

The Pens responded with a big 5-2 win over the Rangers

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

WHAT HAPPENED:

The Penguins earned a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in their eighth and final meeting of the regular season. 

Radim Zohorna, Kris Letang, Evan Rodrigues and Jason Zucker all scored for Pittsburgh, while Tristan Jarry made 22 saves. One of those came on a penalty shot to Chris Kreider.

OVERALL ASSESSMENT:

Now those are the Penguins we know and love. They're back on track after a two-game stretch where their attention to detail and discipline were lacking, and as a result, they gave up 15 goals in a pair of losses.

Heading into tonight, there was never a sense of panic, but they certainly had a sense of urgency - which was palpable from the drop of the puck.  

"I think we have a confident group," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think they understand the circumstance. Nobody was happy with the last couple of games, specifically the result, but the process had a lot to do with it. It starts with a competitive spirit, in my opinion, and when you have it and then bring the details to your game, that formula is going to give you the best chance to win."

The Penguins came out absolutely flying, outshooting the Rangers 13-2 at one point in the first period - and they never really let their foot off the gas for the remainder of the night. As Sullivan pointed out, it certainly wasn't perfect. They did give up some quality scoring chances that somehow didn't end up in the back of the net. But nowhere near as many as Tuesday's 8-4 setback, and this time, the Penguins did a better job of not sacrificing defense for offense.

"We knew we had to turn the page quick after that loss," Letang said. "You watch the film, and you can see that we had tons of chances where we could have won that game, but at the same time, it's up for grabs when both teams are kind of loose defensively and try to score a bunch of goals. We know going forward, if we want to have success, we need to play a good defensive game with a five-man unit out there. So I think we tightened up today and we got the result."

OTHER THOUGHTS, MUSINGS AND OBSERVATIONS

"RADIM! JAGR!"

What a game for Zohorna. The big man was absolutely everywhere in this game. 

He opened the scoring with a beautiful goal - his second in the NHL - and added an assist for his first multi-point effort. The 24-year-old Czech native also drew a penalty after getting slashed on a great scoring chance, and was later denied on another.

I think what's so special about the rookie is that even though he's 6-foot-6 - and he does use his size and strength to his advantage - that isn't necessarily what jumps out at you. It's the level of skill and finesse he possesses, and all of that was particularly on display with his goal. 

Video: PIT@NYR: Zohorna nets forehand after driving to net

His speed, hockey sense, vision and ability to make plays was also on display, as it allowed Zohorna to set up Rodrigues' goal and get into position for his other scoring chances. 

"I would love to have those long legs, long stride," Letang said with a laugh. "Once he gets going, it's pretty tough to stop him. He's pretty fluid for guy who's his size, and we saw that in the game. Even last game, on (Brian) Dumoulin's goal, he did a pretty good job beating those defenders. It's pretty impressive and he's still young, so he can put even more weight and more power."

It's been such a pleasure to watch Zohorna's game come along as he's gotten used to playing in North America after spending the last six years in the Czech Republic's top professional league.

"We knew there was going to be an adjustment to the smaller rink and the pace of play, but we've been really intrigued by his game from the start of training camp," Sullivan said. "And I think with every additional game that he's getting in the NHL and every additional practice 

he's getting with NHL players, the pace of the game and just the way he processes it is slowing down in his mind. And so as a result, I think we're benefiting from his game, because you can see the playmaking ability has and the scoring ability that he's shown to this point."

Tweet from @penguins: Matheson passing the player of the game helmet: "Great response, team. I think it���s pretty obvious... Radim! Jagr!" pic.twitter.com/1xneryrcpJ

You can also see how much his teammates have embraced him. They always have smiles on their faces whenever they talk about him. Evan Rodrigues singled out Freddy Gaudreau as someone who has really taken Zohorna under his wing and making him feel confident and bringing him along.

Overall, the Penguins' depth was on display all night. Rodrigues added an assist for a multi-point night, Gaudreau went 11-1 in the faceoff dot and Mark Jankowski got an empty-netter to seal the victory.

EIGHT IN SEVEN

The power play keeps rolling, as they now have eight goals in the last seven games. It has been been clicking at a 40% success rate over that span, which ranks first in the league.

Heading into tonight, Jared McCann - who has recently gotten an opportunity on the first unit with Evgeni Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen both sidelined with injuries - was getting the lion's share of those goals with four.

But in the second period, with Sidney Crosby unavailable due to a skate issue, the second unit got the call after a scuffle by the Rangers net resulted in Sam Lafferty getting two minutes for roughing and Brendan Smith getting four. It took all of 10 seconds for them to convert.

It started with a faceoff win from Zohorna back to John Marino, who held onto it briefly before pushing it to Zucker. He found Zohorna, who had drifted by the goal line, and the center gave it to Rodrigues in front for the goal.

Sidenote: A few minutes later, Lafferty and Smith took care of their unfinished business after agreeing to drop the gloves off a faceoff for what ended up being a pretty spirited bout that gave the boys a boost.

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