Empty Thoughts: Penguins 7, Jets 2 | TribLIVE.com

Empty Thoughts: Penguins 7, Jets 2

Seth Rorabaugh

Observations from the Penguins’ 7-2 win against the Jets.

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — When the Penguins drafted Sam Lafferty in the fourth-round of the 2014 draft, it was a great story. The local – or as local as Hollidaysburg is in relation to the city limits of Pittsburgh – kid gets drafted by the local team.

And in the ensuing years, anytime he participated in a development camp or a rookie camp or a training camp or scored for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, it was “Hollidaysburg native Sam Lafferty” signing with the Penguins or “Sam Lafferty of Hollidaysburg” practicing with the Penguins.

Even when he was recalled last week, it was “Hollidaysburg’s Sam Lafferty” being summoned from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

On Saturday, when he secured a win at Minnesota with an empty-net goal, it was a goal from the kid from Hollidaysburg.

On Sunday, when he scored two goals in a rout of the Jets, it felt different.

The novelty of a local kid scoring for the Penguins just didn’t seem as prevalent.

He was just Sam Lafferty, NHL player, scoring two goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Him being a native of Blair County growing up in the shadow of the Sidney Crosby era Penguins will always be a part of Lafferty’s story. This civic-minded author will certainly play that up as much as possible.

But it’s no longer becoming the defining characteristic about Lafferty’s NHL existence.

He’s just an NHL player now. He’s proven that repeatedly through the first four games of his NHL career.

On Sunday, he scored a game-winning goal and was used in all sorts of situations as the Penguins smothered the Jets.

His development over the past year has put him in this position. Regardless of the health of the Penguins other forwards, Sam Lafferty is an NHL player … who happens to be from Hollidaysburg.

“He’s earned his playing time,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s just playing terrific hockey. He makes a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty killer. He really understands his role and he’s taken pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence. We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year but I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here. That’s great for him and that’s great for us.”

What happened

The Jets took the game’s first lead 1:47 into regulation. After Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry and rookie defenseman John Marino fumbled puck exchange behind the Penguins’ net, Jets forward Mathieu Perreault stole it in the left corner and immediately whipped a wrister towards the cage. Penguins forward Jared McCann, on a backcheck, inadvertently deflected the puck past Jarry’s blocker on the near side and into the cage. Assists went to forward Jack Roslovic and Dmitry Kulikov.

The Penguins responded at 4:09 of the first period. Circling around the Winnipeg net, former Jets forward Brandon Tanev emerged to the left of the crease, fended off former linemate Andrew Copp and whipped a wrister off the near post. The rebound hopped to the slot where Teddy Blueger put a wrister on net. Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit fought it off but allowed a rebound to bounce free to the right of the crease where Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese cleaned it up with a backhander while falling for his first score of the season. Blueger and Tanev had assists.

The Penguins claimed a 2-1 lead at 7:50 of the second period with a power-play score. Taking a pass at the left point, defenseman Marcus Pettersson teed up a slap pass to defenseman Brian Dumoulin low in the left circle. Dumoulin then one-touched a pass to the right of the crease where forward Jake Guentzel deflected it past Brossoit’s glove for his third goal of the season. Assists were credited to Dumoulin and Pettersson.

It became a 3-1 game at 8:31 of the second. Racing up the left wing, Penguins forward Joseph Blandisi chopped a slapper but had it deflected behind the cage by the stick of Jets defenseman Tucker Poolman. The puck caromed off the end boards and bounced to the right of the cage. Lafferty, who you may have heard is from Hollidaysburg, beat Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey to the rebound and poked it past Brossoit’s left skate. It was Lafferty’s second career goal, his first coming during Saturday’s 7-4 road win against the Minnesota Wild. Assists went to Blandisi and defenseman Kris Letang.

The Jets pulled within one goal at 10:00 of the second with a power-play score of their own. Controlling a puck above the left circle, Jets forward Patrik Laine whipped it on net where it struck teammate Mark Scheifele above the crease. As Jarry slid down in reaction to the release by Laine, Scheifele settled the puck and lifted a backhander over Jarry’s right leg. Laine and Morrissey netted assists.

Penguins forward Dominik Simon got in on the act at 16:28 of the second. After winning a puck battled in the Jets’ left corner, Simon fed a pass to defenseman Marcus Pettersson at the left point. Pettersson whipped a wrister which struck Laine in the left circle and skidded across the blue paint. Forward Sidney Crosby was able to kick to the crease despite falling backwards. Simon jumped on it and backhanded the puck past Brossoit’s left skate for his first score of the season. Crosby and Pettersson had assists.

Lafferty struck again at 9:13 of the third. Swooping behind the net, Lafferty beat Scheifele for a puck, emerged in the left circle and then spun around whipping a wrister at the cage. The puck struck off the right skate of Jets defenseman Anthony Bitetto and past Brossoit’s blocker on the near side. Aston-Reese and defenseman Justin Schultz recorded assists.

They poured it on at 11:40 of the third. After Crosby beat Scheifele on a faceoff in the Jets’ left circle, Letang controlled the puck above the circle, surveyed the zone and snapped off a pass to the right circle where Guentzel buried a wrister past a helpless Brossoit. Assists went to Letang and Crosby.

The scoring was capped off at 14:46 of the third when Morrisey fumbled a puck at the blue line, Aston-Reese was all over it and created a short-handed breakaway. Moving on Brossoit, Aston-Reese snapped off a wrister past Broissoit’s blocker, off the post and into the cage.

Statistically speaking

• The Jets had a 29-28 lead in shots.

• Aston-Reese led the game with five shots.

• Defenseman Neal Pionk and Laine each led the Jets with four shots.

• Letang led the game with 25:21 of ice time on 28 shifts.

• Morrissey led the Jets with 22:30 of ice time on 23 shifts.

• The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 34-30 (53 percent).

• Crosby was 17 for 24 (71 percent).

• Scheifele was 14 for 24 (58 percent).

• Aston-Reese led the game with four blocked shots.

• Kulikov led Jets with three blocked shots.

Historically speaking

• Letang’s first assist was his 500th career point.

• Schultz (105 points) moved past Duane Rupp (104) for 87th place on the franchise’s career scoring list.

Randomly speaking

• Jarry made his season debut and finished with 27 saves. Having gone 0-1-1 in two games last season, he recorded his first NHL victory since a 5-3 road win against the Montreal Canadiens on March 15, 2018.

• Erik Gudbranson returned to the lineup after being a scratch for two games. He replaced Jack Johnson and was used on his off-side – he’s a right-handed shooter – with rookie defenseman John Marino. Gudbranson logged 16:36 of ice time on 28 shifts and recorded one shot on two attempts. He also drew one penalty while also taking one.

• Lafferty now has five points (three goals, two assists) in four games in the NHL.

• Simon scored his first goal of the season.

Publicly speaking

• Sullivan spoke about how his team has played over its three-game winning streak:

“We’re starting to really form an identity that I think is a whole lot of fun. When everybody contributes the way this team has come together over the last week. It’s a real rewarding experience for everybody involved. It’s certainly for our coaching staff to watch them. The energy on the bench has been terrific. The guys are sincerely invested in rooting for one another. They’re sticking up for each other out there. If mistakes are made, they’re usually mistakes of enthusiasm and we move by them and just keep playing the game. That resilience and that attitude I think is so critically important to our team moving forward.”

• Aston-Reese admitted this game was important to him after he had the poor turnover leading to the Jets’ game-winning goal on Tuesday:

“It feels pretty good. Especially against this team after what happened last game, giving them an easy goal and not being able to respond. Just to be able to get those (goals) against this team feels good.”

• Sullivan was pumped for Aston-Reese:

“I’m thrilled for him. He had a great game tonight. He’s a good player and he doesn’t always end up on the score sheet but he does a lot of the thankless jobs. He’s a good penalty killer. He’s good on the wall. We play him a lot, his line against our opponent’s top players. If we don’t use Sid’s line, a lot of times, the line that he’s on is the next line that plays against the other team’s top players and he does a great job. He’s another guy that’s getting a better understanding of what his role is and what his niche is and how he can excel in that role for this team in particular. But I’m thrilled for him that he scores a couple of goals tonight. For a guy like that to get rewarded on the scoresheet for all the effort and the sacrifice that he puts in, we couldn’t be happier for him.”

• Aston-Reese kind of, sort of credited Letang with helping him on his short-handed goal:

“It was pretty nice, especially because I told (Letang) I was going to hold up for the draw. He was like, ‘No, just go.’ And I just got a lucky bounce. … Post and in. Pretty lucky.”

• Sullivan explained the decision to dress Gudbranson and to play him on his off side:

“We did but we also thought it was important to keep him in the flow. We’re trying to manage as best we can. We feel like we have nine real quality, capable defensemen. The challenge is for us, and I guess that’s a real good challenge to have, is to find a way to get him in the lineup. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to keep them all involved. At the same side of the coin, we’re trying to make decisions to win the hockey game. We chose to put (Gudbranson) in the lineup tonight. I thought he had a solid game.”

• Lafferty is kind of “aw, shucks” about his success over the past two games:

“I’m just kind of playing. Right now, pucks are going in. You just want to ride that out as much as you can.”

• Aston-Reese spoke about his team trying to keep things simple while it deals with injuries up front:

“Some of the goals we have, they’re not the prettiest ones. (We’re) just throwing pucks to the net and just being strong in front and putting them home. …We’re trying to not be as pretty.”

• Jarry admitted the fluky goal at the start of the game is something he might not have handled as well in years past:

“Yeah, maybe. That year in Wilkes really helped me. It really helped me grow as a player and helped me manage my game a lot better. … Hopefully it shows.”

• Guentzel spoke about the significance of Simon getting his first goal after doing a lot of little things to help their line with Crosby over the past few games:

“Yeah, huge. He’s been really good so far. Maybe it hasn’t showed on the scoresheet. But just for him to get that, it gives him a lot of confidence. He’s such a big part of our line. It’s really nice to see that.”

• The Penguins’ power play was 1 for 2 and has gone 4 for 12 (33.3 percent) over the past three games. Sullivan is enthused with how it’s playing:

“The power play has been really good. There’s been a ton of movement. The biggest thing that we’ve noticed this year is that our puck retrievals have dramatically improved. We’re getting to loose pucks and we’re scoring goals off the retrievals. We got one last night in Minnesota. Jake Guentzel’s goal is a perfect example of that. Sid jumps on the puck. (Patric Hornqvist) is a part of it. Everybody is participating in that aspect of the power play, then wen we end up with the puck back, they have the instincts to act on it. That’s something that has helped him. The guys on the power play are doing a terrific job. They’re working together, they’re committed. It’s a collective effort. When they work together the way they do, they’re a dangerous power play. They’re a talented group.”

Visually speaking

Game summary.

Event summary.

• Highlights:

Follow the Penguins all season long.

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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