Patchwork Penguins defeat Devils behind Rowney, Crosby
Part of coach Mike Sullivan's reputation as a deft communicator comes from his ability to recognize when to offer a simple message and when to let his words soar until they lift the Penguins' spirits.
Even while down seven lineup regulars, including star center Evgeni Malkin, in Friday's 6-4 win over New Jersey, Sullivan settled for something succinct and stoic.
“When you play 100 games a year, it's not like you can go in with a Knute Rockne speech every night,” Sullivan said.
Pace favored the hosts throughout their win, which put the Penguins one point behind league-leading Washington in the standings. A lineup lacking Malkin, Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta and Ron Hainsey still possessed the skating talent and offensive skills to pull New Jersey out of its stubborn, structured game plan.
“That's the discussion we had (Friday) at 5:30 p.m. before the game: This is a great opportunity here for our team to grab two points (in the standings) and put ourselves in a better position moving forward,” Sullivan said. “What I love about our players is we have a driven group. We've got a motivated group. These guys, they're internally driven. They inspire their coaching staff.”
Five players scored for the Penguins, including 27-year-old rookie Carter Rowney, who buried the winner 5 minutes, 17 seconds into the final period to get his first NHL goal. Sidney Crosby had two goals, including an empty-netter with 34 seconds left.
Rowney, regarded as a long shot to even reach the highest level of hockey slightly more than two years ago, also earned the primary assist on the Penguins' fourth goal, which Nick Bonino delivered to cap a perfect three-on-two rush.
“Every injury (on the team) creates an opportunity and opens a door, so I think you've just got to make the most of it,” said Rowney, who secured his two points in just 5:10 of ice time.
Bonino, stuck in a scoring slump until early March, swooped into the offensive zone flanked by Tom Kuhnhackl on his right and Rowney on his left. Kuhnhackl moved the puck to Rowney, who fed Bonino in the middle.
“It's very streaky — I think I've always been like that,” said Bonino, who upped his total to five goals in his last six games. “(Scoring balance) is one of the reasons we had success last year. It's been streaky, like I said, this year. But if there's a time for all four lines to start scoring, it's March and April and into the playoffs.”
Likely to New Jersey's chagrin, end-to-end action and scoring chances abounded for both sides in the first period. The Devils scored a season-high six goals one night earlier against Philadelphia, but as the team with the worst scoring production in the Eastern Conference, they recognized the futility of trading chances with the NHL's goals leader.
Neutralizing the Penguins' ability to push the pace sat at the top of New Jersey's agenda. Unfortunately for the visitors, many forms of the Penguins' speed became apparent in their three first-period goals.
Beau Bennett, traded from the Penguins to New Jersey at the draft last June, finally found the back of the net against his former team as he rifled a juicy rebound past Murray with 51 seconds left in the middle period to cut the Devils' deficit to 4-3.
“I think they're probably playing a little bit looser now that they have nothing to play for, so that probably had something to do with it,” Murray, who finished with 32 saves, said of the Devils' offensive urgency. “They had a lot of young guys who are trying to prove themselves, and those young guys played really hard. … It was a little bit different than what we're used to against Jersey, but I'm just glad we got the two points tonight.”
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.