Penguins hang tight, then ignite in win over Senators
On Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, Jake Guentzel finished the game on the fourth line.
On Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena, he ended up at the top of the scoresheet.
Guentzel scored his second goal of the game to kick off a second-period scoring spree that led the Penguins to a 6-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
Zach Aston-Reese also scored two goals, his first in the NHL, as the Penguins won their ninth consecutive home game. They've won seven of their last nine overall.
"It feels nice," Guentzel said. "I think it's been coming. You gotta take it, and hopefully a streak's coming now."
Guentzel, who led the league in playoff goals with 13 last season, has gone cold in recent weeks, scoring four times in his previous 30 games. He slipped to the fourth line in St. Louis primarily because coach Mike Sullivan said he thought Dominik Simon had a better chance to win tough one-on-one battles against the physical Blues.
On Tuesday against Ottawa, Guentzel scored both his goals in tough areas of the ice.
His first, which gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period, came on the power play. Justin Schultz made two keep-ins at the blue line before taking a shot that Guentzel tipped past goalie Mike Condon.
Guentzel's second came when he parked himself at the top of the crease in the second period and converted the rebound of a Phil Kessel shot to give the Penguins the lead for good.
"That's where most goals are scored nowadays," Guentzel said. "It's going to be tough sometimes, but definitely it's nice to get those."
Aston-Reese scored twice in his fifth NHL game. By the second period, he had been bumped up to the top line with Sidney Crosby.
"It's pretty easy playing with him," Aston-Reese said. "You don't even really need to call for the puck. He just knows where you are. As long as you keep your feet moving and find open spots, he'll get you the puck."
That's what happened on Aston-Reese's first goal, as Crosby hit him with a pass on the left wing and he lined a shot in off Condon's glove. It ended a spurt of three goals in seven minutes for the Penguins.
"It was pretty special," said Aston-Reese, who added an empty netter later. "When we get the momentum there, it seems pretty unstoppable, pretty invincible."
The Penguins were far from invincible through much of the first two periods, though. Forty minutes into the game, despite holding a 4-2 lead, they were being outshot 25-11.
Sullivan said he thought the Penguins were managing the puck poorly and not playing a structured game.
"I thought they outplayed us for the first two periods," he said. "That's what we told our guys after the second period. Don't be fooled by the score."
They won the game, and by a convincing margin at that, for two reasons.
First, Matt Murray outplayed Condon. Murray improved to 5-0-1 in his last six starts, making 30 saves.
"The way the first two periods were played, we probably didn't deserve to have a lead. I think Matt was a big reason why," Sullivan said.
Second, the Penguins had a lethal finishing touch during the second-period scoring spree.
Between goals by Guentzel and Aston-Reese, Evgeni Malkin added one for the highlight reels.
Carl Hagelin beat defenseman Erik Karlsson up the left wing, swooped around the net and let go of a behind-the-back pass. Malkin collected it near the left post and fired in a spinning backhand before Condon knew what hit him.
"We got guys that can put the puck in the net," Schultz said. "That's great, but we've got to be better than that for sure."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.