Penguins score 2 short-handed goals, down Panthers
When they essentially gave up three power-play goals in a Sunday loss, the Pittsburgh Penguins penalty killers vowed they’d have a better performance the next time out.
They sure made good on that promise Tuesday.
Not only did the Penguins successfully kill all four penalties they took, Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan scored short-handed goals, leading the team to a 5-1 victory over the Florida Panthers at PPG Paints Arena.
“I think we didn’t really do the job that we wanted to last game,” Rust said. “We were definitely looking to be a little bit better.”
Matt Murray turned in another brilliant performance in net for the Penguins, making 36 saves to improve to 8-0 since returning from injury last month. He stopped at least three Grade-A short-handed scoring chances by the Panthers.
“If you get a little bit better each and every day, I think it compounds. That’s how you’re going to improve,” Murray said. “That’s what I try to focus on, practice, game or morning skate. Just try to compete and get a little bit better every day.”
Patric Hornqvist left in the first period after taking a puck to the face and did not return. Zach Aston-Reese played only one brief shift after catching Florida’s Colton Sceviour flush in the temple with a right hand in a third-period fight.
Coach Mike Sullivan said both players still were being evaluated, but it was his sense Aston-Reese would be out “for a little bit.”
The Penguins carried a 2-0 lead into the second period, just like they did Sunday night against Chicago.
On that night, they took an offensive-zone penalty, gave up a power-play goal and eventually lost 5-3. This time, Dominik Simon took an offensive-zone hooking penalty, but the Penguins responded with two short-handed goals.
On the first, Matt Cullen stickhandled through traffic up the left wing and found Rust skating down the slot with a step on his man.
On the second, Sheahan stole a puck from Keith Yandle in the neutral zone, and with Aston-Reese driving the net, fired a shot past Roberto Luongo to make it 4-0.
“I think anytime you can get some pressure up the ice and disrupt their breakout, it takes them out of their flow and it might give you a chance,” Rust said. “We got a couple real good ones tonight.”
Short-handed goals aside, it’s hard to say the Penguins were the better team. The Panthers held a 37-31 edge in shots and 55-36 advantage in even-strength shot attempts.
When the Penguins got chances on Luongo, who was pulled after stopping 12 of 16 shots, they finished ruthlessly.
Less than two minutes in, Marcus Pettersson tracked down a loose puck along the right wall in the neutral zone and finessed a pass to Tanner Pearson, who scored on a shot from the wing.
Less than two minutes after that, Jake Guentzel poked a puck between Aaron Ekblad’s skates to enter the offensive zone and hit Rust skating down the slot for a nifty backhand move.
“I thought early in the game, we turned the puck over a lot,” Sullivan said. “There were glorious scoring chances on both sides. We were opportunistic on ours, and I thought Matt made some big saves for us.”
Murray, meanwhile, built a wall the Panthers only cracked once.
Most notably, in the second period, he lifted his left pad behind him to stop a short-handed Jared McCann chance at the right post.
“We made him work again,” said captain Sidney Crosby, who added a third-period goal. “It’d be nice to have a few more games where you don’t give them that many Grade-A chances.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.