Gameday 23: Looks Like Meat’s Back On the Menu, Boys!

Oh baby, what a night and what a game! Thursday, November 30, 2023 is a date that will be remembered forever in Pittsburgh Penguins history. On the road, down 0-2 early to a dangerous Tampa Bay Lightning team, the Penguins spent the next two periods making the most of some sloppy and overly aggressive Tampa mistakes.

First on the board, just shy of the nine minute mark in the second period, was the captain Sidney Crosby (because of course it was) with a vintage wrister on the breakaway to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy just inside the right post. Then, as the period was winding down, Pittsburgh caught Tampa napping with the Bolts turning it over sloppily in their offensive end. Evgeni Malkin smartly saw the play fall apart and immediately wheeled up ice, and Kris Letang was able to find him with a pass down the boards. Malkin, well ahead of everyone except for Victor Hedman, had plenty of time to hold up and hesitate, allowing Drew O’Connor to motor into the zone and head for the net. All it took from there was Malkin nutmegging Hedman and finding O’Connor’s blade, and just like that the Penguins even the game up at two goals apiece.

Then came the incredible third period. Two-and-a-half minutes in, the Lightning tossed the puck into the Penguins’ defensive end and three Tampa players converged on Marcus Pettersson, which is particularly bad math as Pettersson was able to quickly move the puck ahead to Jeff Carter and generate a 3-on-2 the other way. Carter entered the offensive zone, dumped off a pass to the trailing Matt Nieto, and Nieto gave it right back to Carter who quickly smacked the puck on goal. With Noel Acciari crashing the net, the puck beat Vasilevskiy, giving Pittsburgh their first lead of the game and Carter his first goal since April 6. The Lightning would then spend the rest of the period doggedly pursuing a game-tying goal, but the Penguins weathered the storm all the way up the 90 seconds remaining mark of regulation.

If Sidney Crosby has been Pittsburgh’s MVP to this point in the season, Tristan Jarry is hot on his heels. The Penguins have needed him to be at least a top ten goaltender this season and he is definitely up there. Only one other goalie has faced more expected goals against and saved more goals than Jarry (Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko), and on Thursday Jarry stopped 39 shots and saved almost two goals more than expected. For the month of November Jarry went 6-3-1 and allowed an average of just over two goals a game, which is just what the doctor ordered to help keep Pittsburgh afloat in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Indeed it has been Jarry’s play that has kept the Penguins in games on many occasions this season, including on Thursday when Tampa Bay had Pittsburgh under siege for much of the first period and the second half of the third. So then it was only fitting that it was Jarry who would cap off the game, the win, and the month with the first goal scored by a goaltender in Pittsburgh Penguins history. It was an incredible moment that many of us are likely still smiling like a butcher’s dog about even now.

Under normal circumstances I would say that his performance against Tampa Bay should earn him the night off, but the circumstances for tonight’s game are indeed quite special. Of course there’s the significant achievement of the goalie goal to celebrate with the home fans, but with a home-and-home back-to-back against their interstate rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, there’s history both in the past and recent to reflect on there as well. After all it was the Penguins’ most recently dismissed prior general manager Ron Hextall who scored not one but two goalie goals as a member of the Flyers in the late 1980s. The way Hextall’s tenure went left a sour taste in all our mouths, so it is nice to have something to parade in front of a franchise against which there has been plenty of antagonism over the years.

More than just that though is the opportunity to start December off on the right foot by shoving Philadelphia back behind Pittsburgh in the standings where they belong. As I mentioned, the Metropolitan Division is insanely tight right now: just four points separate second place from seventh, and the Flyers are losers (could stop there) of four of their last five games, including a 4-3 loss Thursday at home against the New Jersey Devils which Philadelphia tied up in the last minute of the third only to have the door slammed in their faces by the two of the Hughes brothers in overtime. The Flyers are reeling, so the Penguins would do well to spend the next two games giving them a reality check and pushing them even further back in the standings. I think Pittsburgh will have plenty of enthusiasm to do so after their spectacular night on Thursday.

(*Raves gif credit to PPYM ; )