Penguins romped over by Jets; Patric Hornqvist leaves injured
The Penguins celebrated a significant figure in the history of Pittsburgh hockey when they honored Mike Lange and his 45 years as an iconic broadcaster prior to Tuesday’s game with the Winnipeg Jets at PPG Paints Arena.
And they also got a promising glimpse at the future of the sport in Western Pennsylvania as prospect Sam Lafferty, a native of Hollidaysburg, made his NHL debut.
As for the present, they are simply wondering who will be healthy enough to play forward for them.
In an unsightly 4-1 defeat, the Penguins lost yet another top-nine forward in Patric Hornqvist who left the game after the first intermission. He was struck by a shot by teammate Kris Letang during the first period and labored considerably to get to the bench in order to retreat to the dressing room.
There was no update on Hornqvist’s status from coach Mike Sullivan, who said he is being evaluated.
In the meantime, Sullivan and company will need to evaluate their remaining able-bodied forwards. Before Hornqvist’s departure, the team was already dealing with various ailments to forwards Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad and Bryan Rust who are all on injured reserve.
That quartet has a combined salary cap hit of $22.4 million.
“It’s not common,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “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.”
Hornqvist’s malady occurred with the Penguins opting to dress only 11 forwards along with seven defensemen. That decision was motivated by a desire to give prospect John Marino a chance to make his NHL debut as well.
“We wanted to get John Marino into a game,” Sullivan said. “We think he’s (performed) 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.”
The Jets, who dressed a patchwork lineup of AHL-quality defensemen due to health-related and personal absences to their incumbent blueliners, competed as well.
After the Penguins took a 1-0 lead thanks to a Crosby goal only 32 seconds into regulation, the Jets evened the score thanks to rookie defenseman Ville Heinola scoring his first career goal at 5:48 of the first period.
At 9:55, Winnipeg took the lead for good when forward Niolaj Ehlers was gifted the puck off a hideous turnover in the offensive zone by Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese. Using Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson as a screen, Ehlers sniped a wrister from the right circle past the glove of goaltender Matt Murray.
The Jets went up by two scores only 54 seconds into the second period when defenseman Tucker Poolman fired a wrister from slot past Murray’s blocker. Another Winnipeg defenseman, Neal Pionk, capped off the scoring with a goal off a goalmouth scramble at 11:31 of the second.
Murray finished with only 18 saves on 22 shots, his least impressive performance through three games this season.
It will be impressive if the Penguins find a way to compensate for the outbreaks of injuries among their forwards.
“It’s pretty crazy honestly,” Aston-Reese said. “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.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .