Sidney Crosby leads short-handed Penguins past Ducks
The Penguins clearly have a weaker roster than the one they began the season with a little more than a week ago.
They’ve lost a superstar in Evgeni Malkin as well as vital member of their two-most recent Stanley Cup championships in Bryan Rust. Add in a pair of occasional 20-goal scorers in Nick Bjugstad and Alex Galchenyuk and it’s pretty obvious the Penguins are missing plenty of skill (to say nothing of payroll) from their lineup.
That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare.
As long as Sidney Crosby is still upright, the Penguins typically are still a threat to compete in any games they play.
That was the case in Thursday’s tight 2-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks at PPG Paints Arena. Crosby accounted for each of his team’s scores while logging a season-high 24 minutes, 2 seconds of ice time on 26 shifts.
“He’s playing pretty good,” said a concise Dominik Simon, Crosby’s linemate for the past three games.
After a scoreless first period, the Penguins took the contest’s first lead with a power-play score at 2:57 of the second.
After Crosby lost a faceoff in the offensive left circle to Ducks forward Derek Grant, Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist muscled Ducks forward Carter Rowney off the puck and fed a forehand pass to Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz at the left point.
From there, Schultz went across the ice to Kris Letang at the right point and Letang chopped a shot-pass to the right of the cage, where Crosby deflected the puck past the glove hand of goaltender John Gibson.
Crosby credited Hornqvist’s work to reclaim the puck for giving him a chance to score.
“That’s the kind of stuff he does,” Crosby said. “He wins battles. He’s hard on pucks. He was on one knee and I think fighting off two guys to get that one.
“We don’t score without that effort.”
The Ducks responded only 30 seconds later.
From the end boards, Ducks forward Nick Ritchie fed a pass low to the left circle, where forward Ondrej Kase separated enough from Schultz and lifted a wrister on the near side between goaltender Matt Murray’s right shoulder and the post.
Crosby’s line put the Penguins up 2-1 at 7:24 of the third.
The Penguins’ captain pushed a puck through the neutral zone, fending off defenseman Josh Manson. Gaining the offensive blue line, he drove to the net off the right wing and fed a pass from the goal line past backchecking Ducks forward Adam Henrique’s stick and into to the slot.
As Penguins forward Dominik Simon drove the crease and tied up defenseman Hampus Lindholm, forward Jake Guentzel was able to fire a wrister past the blocker of an outstretched Gibson.
“He beats a guy and makes a play not really looking,” Guentzel said. “Just a special play and I was happy to be at the end of it.”
Murray shook off Kase’s goal and finished with 31 saves, including 12 in the third period.
“He had to fight to see a couple of those,” Crosby said of Murray. “Even some of those passes to the side of the net that are hard to find, he was right there. He looked calm in there.”
Even with a depleted lineup, the Penguins can calmly rest knowing Sidney Crosby can serve as an equalizer in a game like this.
“He’s such an inspiration when he plays the game as hard as he does, as he does most nights,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought he was a force on both ends of the rink. His commitment to defending is just as hard as it is (in) creating offense for us. His line scores both goals and his line is on the ice when we’re defending the lead when our opponent pulls the goalie.
“He’s the best 200-foot player in the game right now.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .