Gameday 57: A Great Leap Forward?

No Bryan Rust, no Jake Guentzel, no problem for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They rewarded their night-owl fans with a big 4-3 win in overtime versus the best-in-the-NHL Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, with goals from Rickard Rakell, Lars Eller, and Erik Karlsson’s winner in the extra frame. Without two of their best wingers in the lineup for some weeks, and already challenged to get offense from guys not named Sidney Crosby, it’s paramount that everyone find ways to score goals and keep the wins coming. Rakell in particular could stand to find his offensive touch, and at the risk of jinxing him he seems to have done just that with seven points in his last six games. Eller has played on par with expectations this year, and his game-tying goal was splendid.

But for Karlsson, the whole sequence that led to his overtime goal was a reminder of what he was traded to the Penguins for: the agility and awareness to keep the puck in the zone, the presence of mind to handle the puck around two defenders then dump it off to Reilly Smith, and then more awareness as he found the weak spot in the middle of the zone to jump on a rebound and toss the puck into the goal. It was his third game-winning goal of the season. Given the circumstances, I think head coach Mike Sullivan really should let Karlsson off his chain more than we’ve seen, because Karlsson can be a game-changer on offense and that’s what Pittsburgh has been lacking all season long. If Karlsson can get his shooting percentage up, the Penguins will be in better shape.

Two observations:

  • Although it was only one game, it was against a seemingly superior opponent, and the Penguins played desperate hockey and got the win. I hate wondering where this desperation hides for stretches of time when they can’t find it situationally. They were behind 2-0 and 3-2 against the Canucks and clawed their way back. They got a power play goal (and gave a shorthanded one, natch). They are capable of winning games when they give a shit. How about giving a shit more often? (I know they give a shit. It just doesn’t always come across from their play that their focus is 100%.)

  • Sidney Crosby seems to make anyone and everyone he plays with better, right? There was a time and day when the same could be said for Evgeni Malkin, but sadly that day seems to be past. He has just two goals and altogether fourteen points since January 1. A lot of that has to do with his slacker linemates (typically Rickard Rakell and Reilly Smith), so why continue to go to that well if the water’s run dry? When they’re healthy (and if they’re still around), I think Guentzel and Rust should go with Malkin. I’d like it if Mike Sullivan tried that for a couple of games…but I dream.