Penguins Bolstered by Returning Players and Win over Stars

Saturday night the Pittsburgh Penguins had a rematch against the Dallas Stars in Texas and took home the win. Their first game against each other was Oct. 18 in Pittsburgh, when the Penguins won 4-2. On Saturday, they won again, 3-0, earning Murray his first shutout of the season. The win, which they needed, was sweetened by the return of injured veterans.

Return from Injuries

Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad returned to the lineup and joined Patric Hornqvist on the third line. On his second shift, Rust showed he was in true form and blocked a shot, which was how he suffered a hand injury at the end of preseason. Despite playing well, the Penguins have not had their hard work pay off. The team could use all hands on deck with Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk still out with injuries. Rust’s speed, in particular, will be useful for the Penguins’ fast-paced game.

Rust and Bjugstad’s return also meant that Juuso Riikola, who’s played in four games this season, was able to play his normal position rather than flailing on the fourth line as a winger. He had a particularly nice moment when he stripped Stars captain Jamie Benn of the puck with patience and a strong stick. The Erik Gudbranson trade (to the Anaheim Ducks), came at the perfect time for Riikola to return to defense, not that the team is hurting on defense in the slightest.

Nick Bjugstad,Patric Hornqvist,Bryan Rust
Pittsburgh Penguins Nick Bjugstad, Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Crosby Takes Puck to the Head

In the second period, Sidney Crosby took a hit from Stars forward Alexander Radulov that left him on his back behind Murray and looking for a penalty call that didn’t come. He got up and kept playing until he took a Kris Letang slapshot off the left side of the head right at the end of the period. He was shaken, but skated to the bench.

For the first three minutes of the third, the Penguins were without their captain. With the injuries the team has suffered so far in the early season, there was concern for Crosby’s well-being during those first three minutes but also concern for the larger implications of losing him as well as Malkin as the team continues to find their equilibrium as players return to the lineup. However, Crosby returned and finished the game.

Losses Not Sign of Bad Play

It’s important to note that, despite losing the past three games before their win in Dallas, the Penguins have been playing well. By the numbers, the 4-2 and 3-2 losses to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively, might seem like a bad sign, but they aren’t indicative of how the team has been playing. They gave up goals on some poor plays but many were bad luck, including when the puck was knocked up in the air, came down and bounced off the back of Murray’s jersey and into the net. In fact, the worst they’ve played was in the first 40 minutes against the Stars, but they managed to keep them from scoring but were outplayed.

Matt Murray, Alexander Radulov
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray stops Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

In the final 20 minutes, the Penguins picked up their play to a level that had remained consistent since their first win over Dallas and through their three losses. The improved confidence or passion or maybe yelling that took place during the second intermission paid off. At 7:29 into the third, Dominik Kahun opened the scoring and nabbed his first goal as a Penguin.

After earning many good chances over the past few games without being able to finish, Kahun took advantage of Ben Bishop’s costly turnover behind his own net, and found the puck sitting in front of the net. He scored the game-winning goal. A little over two minutes later Rust snuck another one past Bishop to score in his season debut and John Marino got his first NHL point with an assist. Finally, Brandon Tanev, who was quieter than usual in this game, scored the empty-netter with 1:14 left.

The Penguins Road Ahead

With the Gudbranson trade and Zach Trotman now assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins have changed Sam Lafferty, Joseph Blandisi, and Adam Johnson from emergency recalls to regular recalls. This allows the Penguins to add youth to a team of veterans for a while longer — and decide who they want to keep permanently (Sam Lafferty has made an impression), which has been a big factor in their success. The Penguins take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night and the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night, when the new guys will be able to show off how they hold up to the Penguins-Flyers rivalry.