Empty Thoughts: Jets 4, Penguins 1 | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Empty Thoughts: Jets 4, Penguins 1

Seth Rorabaugh
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Observations from the Penguins’ 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

First things first, there was no update on Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist who left the game after the first intermission due to an undisclosed injury. He was struck by a shot from teammate Kris Letang during the first period and hobbled badly to the bench before retreating to the dressing room. He briefly returned to the bench late in the period but did not play the final 40 minutes of regulation.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Hornqvist will be evaluated.

Hornqvist’s departure took place in a game the Penguins opted to dress only 11 forwards in order to use seven defensemen, the extra blueliner being prospect John Marino.

“We wanted to get John Marino into a game,” Sullivan said. “We think he’s played extremely well to this point. The fact that we’ve had a number of defensemen and given the circumstance that presented itself, it seemed like a logical decision. The risk associated with it is if you lose a forward early in the game, that’s the risk and we had that discussion. And we lost a forward early in the game. That’s just the nature of how it went. But I thought the rest of our forwards, we had a shortened bench there for a lot of the game, and guys competed pretty hard.”

Hornqvist’s injury comes as the Penguins are already dealing with several of their top-nine forwards already sidelined. Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad and Bryan Rust are each on injured reserve.

The four of them represent $22.4 million in salary cap hits according to Cap Friendly.

Sullivan suggested the decision to go with seven defensemen was a one-time only proposition and it seems unlikely they’ll return to that deployment for Thursday’s game at home against the Ducks.

In the meantime, they may need to summon another forward from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Sam Lafferty and Andrew Agozzino, who was a healthy scratch on Tuesday, were recalled on Tuesday. Lafferty made his NHL debut.

Potential candidates for another recall would include Adam Johnson or Joeseph Blandisi, each of whom appeared in a handful of NHL games last season. Sam Miletic opened the AHL season on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s first line while Anthony Angello brings plenty of size and willingness to mix it up.

Unless assistant coach Mark Recchi holds open tryouts in the parking lot of their practice rink in Cranberry on Wednesday, there are plenty of opportunities for the incumbent forwards and any potential recalls.

“It’s pretty crazy honestly,” said forward Zach Aston-Reese, who opened the season on the fourth line and was promoted to the third line on Tuesday through attrition. “It’s pretty unfortunate. But it’s going to give a lot of opportunities to guys like myself and guys like (Lafferty). And guys are going to be coming up and filling those spots. So as unfortunate as it is, it’s exciting for guys to get opportunities.”

What happened

The Penguins didn’t waste much time getting on the scoreboard. Only 32 seconds into regulation, Jets defenseman Neal Pionk and forward Blake Wheeler combined on a turnover on their own left wall which ended up at center point. Letang jumped on the puck and shuffled a backhand pass to the left circle for forward Jake Guentzel. Going backhand to forehand, Guentzel spun towards the cage and fired a pass to the top of the crease where forward Sidney Crosby jammed a shot past goaltender Connor Hellebuyck’s right leg. It was Crosby’s first goal of the season. Guentzel and Letang netted assists.

The Jets responded at 5:48 of the first period. Fending off Penguins defenseman Erik Gudbranson, Jets forward Mark Schiefele emerged from behind the Penguins’ cage and fed a pass to the top of the left circle where Jets rookie defenseman Ville Heinola dropped the hammer on a one-timer which squeaked through goaltender Matt Murray’s equipment and into the cage. It was Heinola’s first career goal. Scheifele and forward Patrik Laine had assists.

Winnipeg claimed a 2-1 lead at 9:55 of the first. Aston-Reese tapped a sloppy exit pass from the defensive left wall towards the blue line but essentially passed it to onrushing Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers. Steaming into the right circle, Ehlers used Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson as a screen and ripped a wrister past Murray’s glove hand on the near side. The score was unassisted.

(Shoutout to IceBurgh for his/her reaction to the turnover on the reverse camera angle.)

Only 54 seconds into the second, the Jets went up 3-1. Winning a puck battle on the Penguins’ end boards against Letang, Laine fed a pass to the slot where Ehlers was tripped while attempted a shot. Jets defenseman Tucker Poolman corralled the puck in the slot, surveyed the net and ripped a wrister past kneeling Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin. The puck glanced off of Murray’s blocker, deflected off the right post and into the cage. It was Poolman’s second career goal. Laine and Scheifele were credited with assists.

They made it a 4-1 contest at 11:31 of the second. After Murray denied a shot by Laine from the left circle, Pionk tried to jam in the rebound from left of the cage. He was initially denied by Murray who performed an impromptu breakdance to prevent a score. During the ensuing scramble, the puck came loose and Pionk, fending off Dumoulin, was able to chop the puck into the cage. After some hesitation, officials ruled a goal was scored. A video review confirmed the ruling. Laine and Scheifele had assists.

Statistically speaking

• The Penguins dominated shots, 38-22.

• Penguins forward Alex Galchenyuk, Crosby, Guentzel, Lafferty and Dumoulin each led the game with four shots.

• Defenseman Anthony Bitetto, forward Kyle Connor and Ehlers each led the Jets with three shots.

• The Penguins had a 26-25 edge in faceoffs (51 percent).

• Crosby was 14 for 24 (58 percent).

• Jets forward (and former Penguin) Mark Letestu was 8 for 10 (80 percent).

• Jets defenseman Sami Niku led the game with three blocked shots.

• Crosby and former Jets forward Brandon Tanev each led the Penguins with two blocked shots.

Historically speaking

• Crosby (1,220 points) surpassed the eloquent Jean Beliveau (1,219) for 41st place on the NHL’s career scoring list.

• Guentzel (159 points) surpassed Greg Polis (158), the first All-Star Game MVP (1973) in Penguins history, for 55th place on the franchise’s career scoring list.

• Marino became the 31st player to wear No. 6 in a game for the Penguins. His predecessors:

Dunc McCallum, Tracy Pratt, Sheldon Kannegiesser, Ron Jones, Colin Campbell, Tom Price, Kim Clackson, Bennett Wolf, Errol Thompson, Greg Hotham, Jim Johnson, Todd Charlesworth, Scott Young, Jeff Chychrun, Peter Ahola, Mike Ramsey, Drake Berehowsky, Neil Wilkinson, Bob Boughner, Mike Wilson, Rick Berry, Richard Lintner, Nolan Baumgartner, Martin Strbak, Ryan Whitney, Joel Kwiatkowski, Ben Lovejoy, Scott Harrington and Trevor Daley, Jamie Oleksiak.

• Marino became the fourth Harvard product to play for the Penguins. He was preceeded by Craig Adams, Bob McManama, Dominic Moore and Noah Welch.

• Lafferty became the 15th player to wear No. 37 in a game for the Penguins. His predecessors:

Justin Duberman, Ladislav Karabin, Ian Moran (playoffs only), Greg Andrusak, Norm Maciver, Kip Miller, Tom Kostopoulos, Mikael Samuelsson, Ryan VandenBussche, Jarkko Ruutu, Bill Thomas, Brian Strait, Jeff Zatkoff, Carter Rowney.

• Lafferty became the third Brown University product to play for the Penguins. He was preceded by Bobby Farnham and Harry Zolnierczyk.

• Lafferty (Hollidaysburg) became the fifth Western Pennsylvanian-born player to play for the Penguins. he was preceded by defensemen Nate Guenin (Hopewell) and Dylan Reese (Upper St. Clair) as well as forwards Ryan Malone (Upper St. Clair) and Bill Thomas (Fox Chapel).

Randomly speaking

• In his debut, Marino logged 10:30 of ice time on 15 shifts and had one shot on one attempt.

• Lafferty logged 15:30 of ice time on 18 shifts. His four shots came on five attempts. He was also 1 for 2 on faceoffs.

• The veteran Penguins had some fun with Lafferty and Marino and goaded them into skating a lap by themselves during warmups:

• Murray made only 18 saves on 22 shots in what was his worst performance through three games of the season.

• A potential fifth goal by the Jets at 17:24 of the second was wiped out on a successful coach’s challenge issued by the Penguins.

• The Jets entered this game minus four of their top four defensemen as Dustin Byfuglien is suspended (he did not report to the team as is said to be contemplating retirement), Dmitry Kulikov took a leave of absence to attend to the birth of his child and defensemen Josh Morrissey as well as Nathan Beaulieu are hobbled by injuries. Yet, this AHL-worthy blue line scored three of the five goals tonight.

Prior to the game, the Penguins honored iconic broadcaster Mike Lange for his 45 years with the franchise:

Publicly speaking

• Crosby was quick to dismiss any notion that the lack of forwards led to the loss:

“It’s just managing your shifts. Everyone is playing a little bit more. I thought we handled that really well. I don’t think anyone is going to use that as an excuse. Guys are getting into the game. We didn’t have to kill any penalties. That didn’t hurt us that way. We had a lot of chances. We didn’t put it in. We got behind early and that ended up being the difference. It’s different if it’s an even game in the third (period) and we wear down and the effects kind of wear on us. But the mistakes we made were early in the game and we had tons of chances to get back in it. We didn’t.”

“It’s not common. But I don’t think any team we’re playing any time soon is going to feel sorry for us. It’s something that we can rally around and try to find a way to make sure we continue to get points and win games. It’s not easy, but collectively we’re going to have to find a way to do it if we want to stay in the playoff picture here, especially early on.”

• Sullivan spoke about how to manage only 10 forwards:

“It makes it a little bit more difficult to get certain matchups if that’s what you’re trying to do just because you only have three lines in the rotation. There are pros and cons to it. You can take a guy like Crosby and play him between the fourth-line wings, for example, and it presents a particular challenge for our opponents with a matchup. It all depends on how you look at it. There are some (coaches) that like to play seven defensemen and do it regularly. We haven’t done it here per se for a number of reasons but we thought tonight it was the right decision to make and that’s why we did it.”

• Sullivan was impressed by Lafferty:

“Really liked his game. His speed is so evident. He’s such a strong skater and he’s strong on the puck himself. I really liked his game. Sam has the potential to be a serviceable, valuable player for this organization. I told him that when we sent him to Wilkes-Barre (during the preseason). We really liked his training camp. He has the attributes to be a real good role player. He can play center, he can play the wing, he can kill penalties, he scored on the forecheck, he’s got a good shot, he can really skate. And with the way the game is being played today, if you can skate like Sam skates, I think it really gives you a chance. I thought his skating tonight was very evident. He had a great game.”

• Aston-Reese, who hung out in the dressing room and waited for reporters to speak with him, had a rough stretch during the first period. Less than two minutes after his ugly turnover to Ehlers, Aston-Reese rang a wrister off the left post of the Jets net and juuuuust missed tying the game and absolving his faux pas.

“I was skating on the back check after hitting the post and just feeling bitter the whole time. That (Ehlers) goal, it was really no one else’s fault but my own. To get a chance and kind of make up for it and have it not go in was pretty unfortunate.”

• Dumoulin went to bat for Aston-Reese and said it was the right play:

“(Aston-Reese’s) play on the wall, I thought that was the right play. He’s trying to chip that to the middle underneath with speed and (Ehlers) came off the bench and had a good read. We can’t overthink those. Those are obviously ones, that if we have those turnovers, we want to try to do everything to keep it out of our net. But you can’t fault him. He tried to make the right play and sometimes that happens. You’ve got to move on and try to get one and try to make up for it.”

• The occasion of recognizing Lange’s tenure was not lost on Lafferty, who grew up watching the team:

“Even before the game, the tribute to Mike Lange I thought was unbelievable. When I think of the Penguins, I think of his voice a lot.”

Visually speaking

Game summary.

Event summary.

• Highlights (so to speak):

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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