Empty Thoughts: Penguins 7, Wild 4 | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Empty Thoughts: Penguins 7, Wild 4

Seth Rorabaugh
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Observations from the Penguins’ 7-4 win against the Minnesota Wild.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — After practice on Friday in Cranberry, Mike Sullivan was asked if he guides “the AHL guys” — players recently recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton — any differently than veteran players.

Sullivan offered a slight protest in how the query labeled those individuals.

“For me, they’re not AHL guys,” he said. “They’re Pittsburgh Penguins.”

Those Pittsburgh Penguins played a major role in the team’s victory against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center.

Joseph Blandisi, Adam Johnson and Sam Lafferty each began the week practicing in Northeast Pennsylvania. They ended it on an NHL scoresheet near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.

All three scored goals and, in general, contributed throughout a somewhat too-close-for-comfort victory against a poor Wild team.

“These guys, they’ve shown they can come in and make an impact on the game,” Sullivan said after the game. “They did more than that. They can all skate, the defended hard. They helped us get momentum on the forecheck. We put them on some defensive zone situations against some of their top people and they did a good job defending. When you have the trust in those guys that we can put them in those situations, it gives us an opportunity to use Crosby’s line, for example, in an advantageous situation offensively. That’s what those guys provided for us tonight.”

What happened

The Penguins took the game’s first lead at 14:54 of the first period with a power-play goal. Collecting a loose puck after a blocked pass attempt, Penguins forward Sidney Crosby circled in the offensive left circle and sent a crossing pass to Justin Schultz in the right circle. Surveying the net for a moment, Schultz directed a shot/pass to above the crease where forward Patric Hornqvist leaned forward and directed the puck with a backhand past the right skate of sprawling goaltender Devan Dubnyk. It was Hornqvist’s fourth goal of the season. Schultz and Crosby got assists.

They made it a 2-0 game at 3:26 of the second period. Penguins goaltender Matt Murray settled a puck behind his cage and left a pass for defenseman Kris Letang to pick up. Pushing play up through his own slot and exiting the defensive zone, Letang fed a forehand pass to the right wing where Crosby blew past Wild forward Luke Kunin while Minnesota’s top defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon collided at the blue line. Streaking on a breakaway, Crosby lifted a a backhander over a sprawling Dubnyk. Letang and Murray netted assists.

The Wild responded 28 seconds later with a power-play score. Settling a puck at the right point, defenseman Brad Hunt surveyed the offensive zone, faked a shot, pulled his stick back again and pounded slap pass towards the crease where forward Jason Zucker was positioned. Zucker carefully directed the puck with his forehand past Murray’s glove hand. Assists went to Hunt and defenseman Jared Spurgeon.

The Wild appeared to tie the game at the 4:28 mark of the second when forward Marcus Foligno swept a loose puck during a frantic goalmouth scramble past Murray’s left skate. But referee Brad Meier immediately waved the score off and ruled Murray had frozen the puck before it came loose in the crease.

A Minnesota native scored the Penguins’ third goal at 11:11 of the second. Gaining the offensive blue line at center point, forward Zach Aston-Reese fed a pass to the left wing for forward Sam Lafferty who released a heavy wrister from above the right circle. Dubnyk kicked out a big rebound to the left circle where Adam Johnson, a native of Hibbing, Minn. whacked a one-timer past a helpless Dubnyk. It was Johnson’s first career goal. Assists went to Lafferty and Aston-Reese. Lafferty, of Hollidaysburg, Pa., recorded his first career point.

They made it a 4-1 contest at the 12:58 mark of the second. Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin chucked a wrister from the right point which Dubnyk punched out to the crease. Letang was low in the crease, collected the rebound and whipped it past Dubnyk’s blocker for his second goal of the season. Assists were credited to Dumoulin and forward Brandon Tanev.

The Penguins’ fourth line struck again at 13:39 of the second. Chasing down a puck behind the Wild net, Johnson emerged to the left of the cage and fed a little pass to the slot where forward Joseph Blandisi, making his season debut, tapped a forehand shot past Dubnyk’s left leg. It was Blandisi’s first goal as a member of the Penguins. Assists went to Johnson and Lafferty. Dubnyk was pulled in favor of backup Alex Stalock.

Minnesota reclaimed some pride at 16:46 of the second. Spurgeon circled around the Penguins’ right corner and fed a pass into the crease where Foligno chopped the puck free and fed a pass back to Spurgeon to the left of the cage. Spurgeon lifted a wrister which clunked off a diving block attempt by Crosby then squirted through the equipment of a scrambling Murray. Foligno and forward Victor Rask had assists.

Another would-be goal for Minnesota was waved off at 5:55 of the third. As Wild forward Ryan Hartman slid into Murray, pushing him into the net, forward Joel Eriksson Ek swatted the rebound from above the crease past the mass of humanity into the cage. Officials immediately waved the goal off citing goaltender interference. The Wild issued a coach’s challenge but was unsuccessful and was issued a delay of game minor for the failed challenge.

The Penguins poured it on at 10:48 of the third with another power-play score by another Minnesotan. Crosby outbattled Spurgeon for a puck in the Wild’s right corner and forced it to the right circle where Hornqvist chopped it on net. Guentzel, of Woodbury, Minn. tapped it under the left leg of Stalock. Hornqvist had the lone assist.

Minnesota scored again at 15:23 of the third. After Penguins forward Teddy Blueger failed to corral a loose puck to the left of his cage, Wild forward Kevin Fiala dealt a pass from the left circle to the left point where Hunt boomed a one-timer through a mass of humanity in the crease and pass Murray’s glove on the far side. Fiala and forward Eric Staal had assists.

The Wild pulled within two 21 seconds later. Off a feed from the right corner by Spurgeon, Kunin whipped a wrister from the right point through traffic and past Murray’s blocker on the far side. Assists went to Spurgeon and defenseman Jonas Brodin.

With Stalock pulled for an extra attacker, Lafferty secured the victory with an empty net goal, his first career goal as an NHLer. It was unassisted.

Statistically speaking

• The Penguins had a 35-33 edge in shots.

• Guentzel led the game with seven shots.

• Forward Miiko Koivu led the Wild with four shots.

• Letang led the game with 23:29 of ice time on 29 shifts.

• Defenseman Matt Dumba led the Wild with 23:27 of ice time on 27 shifts.

• The Wild had a 32-21 edge in faceoffs (51 percent).

• Crosby was 15 for 25 (60 percent).

• Staal was 9 for 15 (60 percent).

• Penguins forward Jared McCann led the game with three blocked shots.

• Brodin, Eriksson Ek and Staal each led the Wild with two blocked shots.

Historically speaking

• Johnson became the 522nd player to score a goal for the Penguins.

• Blandisi became the 523rd player to score a goal for the Penguins.

• Lafferty became the 524th player to score a goal for the Penguins.

• Lafferty’s assist on Johnson’s goal was his first career point. With three career points in three career games, he’s not a point-per-game player.

• Murray recorded his 100th career victory.

• Murray’s assist was the fourth of his career moving him into eighth place among Penguins’ career goaltending assist leaders. Only Tom Barrasso (31), Marc-Andre Fleury (14), Wendell Young (7), Denis Herron (6), Michel Dion, Greg Millen and Ken Wregget (five each) have more.

• This is quite a stat:

• Tanev appeared in his 200th career game.

• This was the Wild’s first regulation loss in a home opener. It is now 14-1-4 in such games.

• The Wild remains one of two teams the Penguins have never recorded a shutout against. The Vegas Golden Knights, who are in their third season of existence, are the other.

Randomly speaking

• There was a bizarre sequence in the second period where Dubnyk and Hornqvist began brawling during goalmouth scramble. Hornqvist grabbed Dubnyk’s head and Dubnyk responded by pounding Hornqvist’s ribs with his blocker while a Wild teammate held Hornqvist by the head. Hornqvist got a double minor for roughing while Dubnyk was given a single minor penalty.

Dubnyk, who has criticized Hornqvist’s methods in the past, offered this on their interaction on Saturday:

“It was just part of the play. I wasn’t overly upset. I was completely calm. He kept grabbing my mask, so, that’s the way it is.”

• Johnson and Lafferty each indicated they would likely be giving their “first-goal” pucks to a parent to be named later.

Publicly speaking

• Sullivan on the somewhat tight finish to the contest:

“We played a hard, competitive game. For the most of the game, we had pretty good control of it. It got away from us a little bit. Late in the third there, they got two quick goals there and they’re right back in the hockey game. You’ve got to make sure you don’t exhale. You’ve got to play to the final whistle. It wasn’t pretty down the stretch but we found a way.”

• Crosby on the callups helping in the victory:

“That’s the only way you win is with everyone contributing. Those guys, just with the way they skate and how they are on the forecheck and what they’re able to do that way, they’re going to create chances just by that. With every game, they’re get more and more comfortable. You see tonight they get some huge goals for us.”

• Sullivan on the Blandisi-Lafferty-Johnson line:

“The fourth line, in general, they played minutes for us tonight. And we’re going to need that moving forward. And they earned the minutes through their performance. They were sound defensively. They made good decisions. And when you look at those three players, they can all really skate. That’s a fast line. We can put pucks into spaces and allow them to get in foot races and that’s where those guys thrive.”

• Seeing players get their first career goals — as Lafferty and Johnson did — never gets old for a veteran like Crosby:

“It’s great. To see guys get their first, especially in a big way. It’s a close game, on the road, they’re starting to get some momentum. (Johnson) in his home state too. It’s always great to see that.”

• Johnson was limited to 1:24 of ice time in Thursday’s 2-1 home win against the Anaheim Ducks and did not record a shift past the second period. He was happy to get much more playing time on Saturday:

“It makes it a little easier when you’re getting out there every few shifts. We had a good night as a line. We were playing good defensively and that led to some good chances offensively. Hopefully, we can that rolling tomorrow.”

• Johnson on the family and friends who came to the game:

“Estimate, probably 20 or 30. A lot of people made the trek down. … I’m sure it was them making a lot of noise.”

(Note: They probably made enough noise for 300 people. They were pumped to see him score.)

• Lafferty was happy to get put on the ice with the empty net while the Wild was pushing:

“It feels great. We just want to help the team any way we can. I thought we played a simple hard game and that’s the way we need to play.”

• Murray got emotional over recording his 100th career win:

“It’s really cool. It’s really humbling. If you told me as a kid that I’d have a hundred wins in the NHL, I’d be thrilled. I’m just feeling very lucky for sure.”

• Furthermore, having 100 wins with the Penguins means he’s been pretty successful for the same franchise for a long time:

“It just means the world to me to play for this team. I just feel very lucky. Just to get to play with these guys night in and night out, it’s pretty special. It’s something I don’t take for granted.”

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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