The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the heels of an impressive 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings last night, took on the struggling Ottawa Senators Thursday evening.
The two teams have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs several times in the Crosby era, with the Penguins winning every series since the Senators' initial 5-game romp in 2008.
This was the second of three scheduled meetings between the two franchises. Pittsburgh emerged victorious 3-2 on the strength of a late Christian Ehrhoff goal back on December 6th.
Ehrhoff and Penguin forward Steve Downie were scratches for Thursday's game, with Zach Sill dressing in place of Downie.
First Period Action:
The singing of the national anthems before a Penguins/Senators game in Ottawa yields mixed emotions. Given Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk's bizarre CSI investigation into Matt Cooke's accidental cutting of Erik Karlsson's leg a few years back, the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" seems much more appropriate.
Anyway, only 1:01 had passed off of the game clock before Kris Letang found himself alone in front of Ottawa's goalie, Robin Lehner, and Letang made sure to convert, stuffing a loose puck home to give Pittsburgh the early 1-0 lead.
I guess you could say that leaving Letang wide open...
...will kill you.
Not that a talent-depleted Ottawa Senators team realistically stood a chance against a (finally) healthy Penguins team laden with elite offensive talent, but in the first period, Ottawa managed to exceed even the lowest expectations and skated as the Washington Generals to Pittsburgh's Harlem Globetrotters.
Acting as though someone had peed in their Corsi-os, Ottawa's defense allowed Pittsburgh to repeatedly gain the blue line and begin successful high-low cycles that would eventually open up shooting lanes for the Penguins to rifle shots on goal.
Lehner kept the Senators in the contest for a while, but when Sidney Crosby found himself streaking down the left wing with a clear look at the net, the Penguins' captain looked to be auditioning for the role of "Canadian Sniper" as he blasted a short-range slapshot past a helpless Lehner to put the Penguins up 2 goals.
Pittsburgh's early surge mirrored their efforts against the Red Wings last night, and forced Ottawa to abandon any hopes of playing a plodding neutral zone trap game as the Senators now had to activate defensemen and try to score goals.
Thomas Greiss would face 6 shots in the first period and turn them all aside, helping to cleanse his palate from the foul taste of Saturday's 5-0 loss at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.
Second Period Action:
Remember when the Ottawa Sun reported that Sidney Crosby had been arrested over the summer? Apparently one of their reporters had heard a friend say that someone had posted on Facebook a link to someone else's Twitter feed which had a link to an Instagram account sporting a #MCM about Crosby being arrested.
The Ottawa Sun's rush to skip that entire "fact checking" element of journalism can be forgiven, especially since Ottawa was the happy home of Claude Giroux's happy arrest for grabbing the buttocks of a male police officer. Repeatedly. Please note that the first link about Giroux— courtesy of Philadelphia's own CSN news— fails to mention the butt-grabbing antics of the team Captain.
How does all of this relate to the second period of the Pens/Sens on Thursday? Because depending on how you read the shots on goal and Corsi narrative, it may seem as though Ottawa outplayed the Penguins, but the period was a lot more evenly played than raw stats suggest.
For instance, Pittsburgh enjoyed over a minute of consecutive offensive zone time after an Ottawa player broke his stick. The Senators, to their credit, were in turn successful in keeping the Penguins out on the periphery, and Lehner was not called about to save his team's Canadian Bacon (Candy, 1995).
Ottawa would generate their share of scoring opportunities, with Erik Karlsson exploding through the center of the ice and creating a mini-breakaway for himself, only to have the puck skip off of his blade and then Greiss's stick before skipping harmlessly into the corner.
USA Olympic hockey snub Bobby Ryan might not be able to spell "penalty shot" either, as Thomas Greiss refused to bite on Ryan's double move and easily turned aside the Ottawa forward's PK attempt. Ryan had been dragged down by a sprawling Kris Letang during a partial breakaway.
Greiss's saves kept the Pens up 2-0 and clearly frustrated an Ottawa team that was starting to tilt the ice in their favor.
Pittsburgh would reverse the flow a few minutes later when Evgeni Malkin, after missing Patric Hornqvist on a contested 2-on-1, got a loose puck and Moonwalked himself into shooting position before roofing a puck over Lehner to give the Penguins a 3-0 advantage.
Ottawa's fan base went silent after the goal, and after the two teams traded penalties seconds apart (Crosby give Ottawa the even-up call after he viciously cross-checked a Senator down to the ice while on the power-play), the period ended with Ottawa ahead 10-6 in shots on goal for the stanza, but down 3-0.
Third Period Action:
Pittsburgh entered last night's third period with a commanding lead, and promptly decided that in the name of sport, they would gift wrap the trailing team a power-play and a chance to make the game entertaining for the hometown fans.
Kris Letang, perhaps jealous of Craig Adams' 2 minute penalty for tripping, decided to give his Fantasy Hockey owners some sin bin time and executed an accidental "can-opener" that put Pittsburgh down two men.
Ottawa would, of course, thank Pittsburgh for their generosity and Mika Ziben...Zibna...Mika Zibakdfkadj;fa would take a Bobby Ryan pass and spin/shoot the puck through Greiss to lower the Sens' deficit to two goals.
Pittsburgh, on an active dare to forgo advanced analytics and win despite terrible Fenwick and Corsi stats (which relate to shot attempt differential sans blocks and shot attempts on goal, respectively), mustered only a handful of weak shots on goal throughout the first few minutes of the period.
Ottawa kept their feet on the gas pedal, and following a Penguins' icing, made the score 3-2 following a beautiful 2-and-a-half-calorie passing sequence, with relatively unheralded Mike Hoffman scoring his 18th of the season off of yet another feed from Mr. Intensity, Bobby Ryan.
The Senators' second goal seemed to wake the Penguins up, but not before Ottawa generated two primo scoring chances that Greiss had to be alert to stop.
The Penguins would regain a 4-2 lead when, following an absolutely terrible neutral zone turnover by Cody Ceci (pizza!), Sidney Crosby would poke home an inexcusably weak Lehner rebound for his second of the game.
Almost immediately afterward, Chris Neil (aka "Ottawa's Steve Downie") got into a scrum with Chris Kunitz and Robert Bortuzzo. The players refused to untangle themselves for quite some time, giving the Ottawa faithful ample time to sing along to "TURN DOWN FOR WHAT!"
Both Kunitz and Neil were assessed 10 minute misconducts for their efforts, thus ending their pre-Valentine's Day date in premature fashion.
Following a Benny Hill loose puck scramble near the Penguins' net, Mark Stone fired a shot through a screened Greiss to put Ottawa back within one goal, 4-3.
Still, Pittsburgh had this game in control, right? Right?! RIGHT?!?!
Just 13 seconds later, Kyle Turris donned his Moses costume, parted the Red Seas of the Penguins' defense, and backhanded a breakaway past the Penguins' German netminder to even the score at 4 apiece.
|It's like Jean-Luc Picard can READ. MY. MIND.|
Malkin then tried to fire up his teammates by leveling Milan Michalek (in blatant interference fashion), but the Senators retained both possession and momentum
With just 24.8 seconds remaining and the Penguins gassed after an icing, Mike Johnston called timeout to salvage at least a point from a game they had let slip away, and both teams left the ice for the fan favorite "dry scrape" prior to the start of overtime.
With Kunitz unavailable for the overtime session, Sidney Crosby took it upon himself to try and win the game, and he nearly did so when he wristed a partial breakaway up high on Lehner.
Kris Letang then nearly won it with a nifty spin shot in the slot (it's funny 'cause it's true, and because it rhymes), and then Blake Comeau went through the blue paint with a power move, but was unable to lift a backhander past the sprawling Lehner.
Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang had one more scoring chance, but the exhausted Penguins couldn't convert, and the game went into the skills competition to determine a winner.
Mr. Intensity/Shootout (Bobby Ryan) went first for Ottawa, and just like his attempt to join Team USA, he was denied.
David "Steal of the Century" Perron then came down the slot and wristed the puck past Lehner to give Pittsburgh the 1-0 lead in the shootout.
Turris could not repeat his earlier breakaway success against Greiss, with Greiss closing the 5-hole to keep Ottawa scoreless.
Sidney Crosby tried to shoot off-stride to surprise Lehner, but his shot hit Lehner squarely in the pad, setting up Ottawa with a chance to try it.
The Senators called on Mika Zibn...Zibenac...sigh, well, whatever his name is, he shot and missed.
The Penguins emerge victorious, earn 2 points, and get to sit back, wait, and see what fake story the Ottawa Sun will come up with next.