Injuries may have led to a simpler game for the Pittsburgh Penguins but it worked on Sunday night, as they powered past the Winnipeg Jets 7-2.
Forwards Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust are all on Pittsburgh’s injured reserve list but the Penguins improved their record to 4-2-0 with their second win on the road this week.
“We talk a lot about being hard to play against. I think this is the definition of it,” said the coach.
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“It starts with your own puck possession, the decisions you make, the line changes, when you change. You put your teammates in good positions because you change at the right time. The tracking on the puck and the back pressure on the puck so you have numbers back . . .
“For me this is the definition of being hard to play against and it’s a recipe for success, regardless of who’s in your lineup.”
Zach Aston-Reese had a pair of goals and added an assist. Sam Lafferty and Jake Guentzel also had two goals apiece for the Penguins while Dominik Simon had the other. Tristan Jarry made 27 saves for the win.
Mathieu Perreault and Mark Scheifele scored for the Jets (4-3-0), who got 21 stops from Laurent Brossoit in net.
“We’ve got different guys stepping up and we’ve got guys coming out of the lineup,” said Guentzel.
“So it just kind of happens like that and when you lose star power like that you’ve just got to be simple and we’re getting better at it.”
Crucial tough call
Jarry, playing his first game as a starter in three weeks, shook off a lucky goal from Perreault that gave the Jets a 1-0 lead in the first period. Perreault’s centring pass from behind the net bounced off a defender’s stick.
“It’s obviously something you can’t control, it’s something that just happens, part of the game, a weird bounce and you just have to get back and focus on what you need to do,” said the young backup.
He agreed a season with the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre Penguins might have helped with keeping his focus.
“I think that year in Wilkes-Barre helped me, really helped me grow as a player and manage my game a lot better.”
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice thought the turning point was a tripping penalty in the first period that gave Pittsburgh it’s second goal, followed just 41 seconds later by a third.
“We take a penalty we don’t like, and then we’re down 3-1,” said Maurice. “We were in a fairly tight game. Not a heavy advantage to either team shot wise or chance wise. That’s where I thought it turned for us.”
Power play struggles
He also thinks the Jets’ power play needs work after they made good on one out of six chances.
“Well we’re not clicking right. We don’t have the zone time and we’re kind of out of sorts a little bit. When we get to positions that pucks get knocked down or we’re not coming up with it, we’re not in a particularly good place to defend it. We’re working on it.”
Both teams were playing back-to-back games and lacked zip in the first period but Jets forward Blake Wheeler didn’t blame it on fatigue.
“It was right there,” he said of their chance to win the game.
“The start was good. Through the second period, it was good. We get the power play goal and we’re down by a goal. Puck bounced the wrong way tonight.”
Things got rolling for the Penguins when Aston-Reese tied it up a few minutes after Perreault’s goal. As he was falling to the ice in front of the Winnipeg net, he slipped a loose rebound past Brossoit at 4:09 for his first goal this season.
Guentzel then scored on a power play at 7:50 of the second to give the Penguins the lead and just 41 seconds later a puck bounced behind the net and back out, right in front of Lafferty, and was slammed home to make it 3-1.
Scheifele narrowed it by backhanding a rebound past Jarry on a power play at the 10-minute mark but Simon erased that at 16:28 with a puck that pinballed through traffic before ending up in the Jets’ net. It was also his first of the season.
Lafferty scored again at 9:32 when his shot glanced off Winnipeg defenceman Anthony Bittetto’s skate. Then Guentzel beat Brossoit for his second of the game and fourth of the season at 11:40 to make it 6-2.
Aston-Reese scored his second of the game short-handed on a breakaway just seven seconds into a Winnipeg power play at 14:46 to continue the rout.