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Penguins

Penguins win in Anaheim without leaning on goalie Matt Murray

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, 8:03 a.m.
The Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate after a goal by left wing Tanner Pearson past Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson, right, and Jakob Silfverberg, left, during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. The Penguins won 7-4.
The Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate after a goal by left wing Tanner Pearson past Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson, right, and Jakob Silfverberg, left, during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. The Penguins won 7-4.

While the Pittsburgh Penguins were ripping off eight straight wins through late December and early January, they were aided and abetted by a red-hot goaltender.

It was easy to wonder what those results would have looked like if Matt Murray hadn’t been playing out of his mind.

Well, there’s a good chance they would have looked a lot like Friday night’s game in Anaheim.

Murray turned in an ordinary performance, especially as the Penguins fell behind 3-0 in the first period.

He committed no cardinal goaltending sins, but when an Ondrej Kase centering pass hit Nick Ritchie’s stick in front, it didn’t clang off the post or bank into the corner. It found the back of the net. When a second-period turnover by Evgeni Malkin led to a Jakob Silfverberg breakaway, Murray didn’t make a ridiculous, acrobatic save. The shot slipped inside the right post.

As it turned out, none of that mattered.

Jake Guentzel had a hat trick and Tanner Pearson scored twice. Malkin had a four-point night and Phil Kessel recorded three points. Sidney Crosby’s line was thoroughly dominant. The Penguins scored the last four goals of the game and cruised to a 7-4 victory to improve to 15-3-1 since Dec. 4.

During that stretch, the Penguins have scored at least five goals in a game eight times.

Good goaltending, bad goaltending, anything in between – it hardly matters what’s going on in net when a team is scoring at that pace.

Here are three other things we learned from Friday night’s Penguins victory.

1. Deep enough

For most of the first two periods, it looked like injuries to Hornqvist, who is out indefinitely with a concussion, and Zach Aston-Reese, who is out long term with a hand injury, were taking their toll on the Penguins.

On paper, going from Hornqvist to Pearson on the second line was a downgrade. So was going from Pearson to Riley Sheahan in the left-wing spot on the third line.

In the third period, though, concerns about forward depth vanished.

Malkin set up Pearson at the left post for a shot that tied the score 4-4 with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game. Kessel stole a puck from Jacob Larsson and gave the Penguins the lead for good less than a minute later.

The Penguins haven’t found perfect line combinations for Malkin and Kessel yet this season, but when the two superstars are creating chances at peak level, there’s a lot of margin for error when choosing who they should play alongside.

2. Surviving the shorties

Malkin’s turnover in the second period led to the ninth shorthanded goal allowed by the Penguins this season. That’s tied with Boston and Florida for the most in the league.

Somehow, though, it hasn’t burned the Penguins lately.

They’ve given up a shorthanded goal in five of the 21 games they’ve played since Nov. 27. They managed to win four of those five games.

3. Balance of trade

In general, the Dec. 3 swap of Daniel Sprong for Marcus Pettersson has been a deal that has benefitted both teams. That balance didn’t shift much Friday night.

Sprong had a tremendous first period, scoring the goal that gave the Ducks a 3-0 lead and making an impressive backcheck to rob Matt Cullen of a scoring chance. He was quiet the rest of the night.

Pettersson was on the ice for Ritchie’s goal in the first two minutes of the game. After that, he was a plus-2, hitting the crossbar with a second-period shot and assisting on one of Pearson’s third-period goals.

All in all, it was probably a wash.

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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