Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens' 4-3 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils...
Heading into tonight, I felt like the Pens needed to be more of a resilient group. I wanted to see them do a better job of showing resolve and responding the right way to adversities within the game. They faced their biggest one in the second period. After the Pens took a 2-1 lead with a pair of quick strikes just 2:38 in, the Devils netted a pair of their own to take the lead. And the Pens had a terrific response after that. They continued to plug away, upping their battle and compete level as the clock ticked down and really making a huge push in the final minutes. They were rewarded with the tying goal from Sidney Crosby with 14 seconds left, and a 4-3 shootout win.
Tom Kuhnhackl had a fantastic effort tonight. His second-period goal was just filthy, and words can't necessarily do it justice. You'll just have to watch below. In addition to that, he made a brave play when he went down for a huge block late in the second period and despite being hobbled by the shot, didn't hesitate to go down for another block right after. Thankfully, it went through to Matt Murray, who had a clear look at it. Kuhnhackl went to the dressing room right after, but returned for the third and overtime.
It wasn't Murray's best game tonight. New Jersey's first and third goals are probably ones he'd want back. Though he was in position for the first one, the puck bounced up before he could close his five-hole and move his stick. On the third, the puck sneaked between his arm and torso before he could close it off. But just like the team was resilient, Murray was as well. He closed the door from there, coming up with several high-quality stops throughout the rest of the game, into overtime and the shootout, where he stoned all three Devils shooters.
Rookie Jake Guentzel continues to roll. He got his third goal in just his fourth career game and continued his point-per-game pace. Sullivan spoke so highly of his offensive instincts before he debuted the other night, and he was absolutely right. Guentzel always seems to be in the right place at the right time, especially around the net.
Defenseman Steve Oleksy made his Pens debut, replacing Brian Dumoulin, who was a healthy scratch. I thought Oleksy was real solid in his first NHL game action in quite a while. He was strong defensively and even chipped in on the scoresheet with a heads-up play. He collected the puck in his own end and instead of dumping it, took his time and found Evgeni Malkin alone on the blue line - who re-directed the pass to Tom Kuhnhackl for a huge goal. Overall, Oleksy played without hesitation. He was aggressive, physical stayed within himself, something Sullivan always preaches.
Yesterday it was the penalty kill that had a rough outing; tonight it was the power play. Not only did it go 0-for-5 on the night; it gave up a shorthanded goal for the second time in four games. And that shorthanded goal could have been a backbreaker, as it gave New Jersey a lead they did not relinquish until late in the game. The Pens are certainly missing their net-front presences in Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz; Sullivan has tried Conor Sheary, Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr there, but nothing seems to be clicking right now. But regardless of the personnel, the Pens need to work harder and do a better job of getting the puck to the net.