14 minutes ago
Observations from the Penguins’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Lightning.
It’s one thing when Jim Rutherford tells you the trade he just made was a good one or when Mike Sullivan tells you how much a new player will help.
It’s another when the incumbent players act excited about a new player, only minutes after a somewhat unappetizing overtime loss.
Yet, the Penguins players who were available to reporters after Tuesday’s game were offered genuine appreciation that Rutherford and company went after Zucker.
After enduring a rough four-plus months of injuries to star player and trying to patch holes in the lineup with duct tape and bubble gum, the acquisition of Zucker almost seemed like a reward for the resolve this group has shown this season.
That was at least the sentiment some of the Penguins’ players offered after this game.
“He’s obviously a player who works extremely hard at both ends of the ice,” forward Bryan Rust said. “He can skate really well. He’s got good hands and a good shot. The puck was bouncing all over for everybody tonight. It was kind of hard to get a feel for that. But I’ve known him for a really long time. It’s big. He’s really going to help this team.”
“It’s huge,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s one of the guys who was out there (as a trade target). Our management made a big push to get him. He’s a really good player. It’s good to have him on our side for a few years.”
Jason Zucker might not make or break this roster. But his presence really means something to this group in an intangible fashion.
The Penguins opened the scoring 11:31 into regulation. Working on a power play, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang fed a pass from the left point to the top of the right point where forward Sidney Crosby cranked a one-timer on net. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy fought off the puck with his blocker but allowed a rebound that puddle-jumped to the left circle. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin was able to claim the puck and fired a wrister past a scrambling Vasilevskiy for his 18th goal of the season. Crosby and Letang collected assists.
(Video courtesy NHL)
Tampa Bay tied the game, 1-1, 3:59 into the second period with its own power-play goal. At center point, Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev played hot potato with the puck dealing it back and forth with forward Nikita Kucherov at left point. Taking the puck and surveying offensive zone, Sergachev lofted a precise wrister past a forest of bodies down the slot and past goaltender Matt Murray’s blocker for his ninth goal. Kucherov and forward Patric Maroon had assists.
(Video courtesy NHL)
Following a scoreless third period which turned into a staring contest between Murray and Vasilevskiy, the Lightning claimed victory in overtime at the 2:45 mark. After an ill-time line change by forward Bryan Rust, the Lightning created a three-on-two rush into the Penguins’ zone. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman gained the offensive zone on the right wing against Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson and left a drop pass for forward Brayden Point at the right point. Juking past a sliding block attempt by Malkin, Point slipped a slick pass from the right circle to the left circle for forward Yanni Gorde. With an acre of ice to work with, Gorde sniped a wrister over Murray’s right shoudler on the near side for his seventh goal. Point and Hedman netted assists.
(Video courtesy NHL)
• The Lightning had a 38-36 lead in shots.
• Lightning forward Tyler Johnson led the game with six shots.
• Zucker and forward Jared McCann led the Penguins with five shots each.
• Letang led the game with 29:07 of ice time on 29 shifts.
• Hedman led the Lightning with 28:46 of ice time on 31 shifts.
• The Penguins had a 29-26 edge in faceoffs (53 percent).
• Crosby was 18 for 29 (62 percent).
• Point was 11 for 15 (73 percent).
• Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson, Pettersson, Lightning defensemen Erik Cernak, Luke Schenn, Hedman, Point and Sergachev each led the game with two blocked shots.
• In his Penguins debut, Zucker logged 15:26 of ice time on 20 shifts.
• Zucker became the 33rd player in franchise history to wear No. 16. His predecessors:
Wayne Hicks, Ron Snell, Glen Sather, Sheldon Kannegiesser, Ron Lalonde, Lew Morrison, Derek Sanderson, Kim Davis, Mike Meeker, Gary McAdam, Bennett Wolf, Marc Chorney, Bryan Maxwell, Mark Taylor, Jim McGeough, Kevin LaVallee, Charlie Simmer, Steve Gotaas, Jay Caufield, Mike Hudson, Joe Dziedzic, Eddie Olczyk, Jeff Serowik, Dennis Bonvie, Kris Beech, Erik Christensen, Paul Bissonnette, Chris Conner, Cal O’Reilly, Brandon Sutter, Eric Fehr, Josh Jooris.
• Zucker became the lowest (or is it highest?) player in alphabetical order of the franchise’s history. He supplanted defenseman Sergei Zubov for that designation.
• The Penguins’ last overtime loss to the Lightning was a 5-4 road defeat, Jan. 15, 2016. Forward Vladislav Namestnikov completed a hat trick with an overtime goal on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
• The Lightning swept a regular season series from the Penguins for the fourth time in franchise history (0-2-1).
The previous four:
• Give full credit to the Lightning for gutting this one out. Entering the game, forward Steven Stamkos was absent due to injury then through the course of the game, forwards Nikita Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli each left the game due to various injuries. This was a pretty impressive win from that standpoint.
• Cirelli left the game after the first period. During a penalty kill, he blocked a one-timer by Malkin and was hobbled after that. Oddly enough, this was the third time in 10 days Malkin had injured an opponent with a shot. He blasted a slapper which temporarily stunned Capitals forward Tom Wilson in Washington on Dec. 2 then cranked a shot into Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh in Tampa on Thursday. Unlike Wilson, McDonagh has not returned to the lineup since being struck by that puck.
• The Penguins had ample chances to claim a victory before overtime. They put 16 shots on net and just couldn’t figure out Vasilevskiy. He was tuned in.
• So was Murray. He had one of his stronger performances of the season.
• Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel is packing on the short-handed ice time with defenseman John Marino sidelined. Ruhwedel logged 3:10 on the penalty kill in this game. In two games with Marino absent, Ruhwedel has averaged 2:32 of short-handed ice time. In the 30 games before Marino left the lineup, Ruhwedel only averaged 1:07 of short-handed ice time.
• Gourde broke a 35-game goalless drought.
• Zucker didn’t really sugarcoat his debut:
“I don’t think I played very well tonight. I thought my hands were terrible. I mishandled pretty much every puck I touched. I just tried to skate and tried to create some opportunities. I think I’ll be better next game.”
• Zucker on wearing a jersey other than the Wild’s for the first time in his nine-year career:
“It was very weird. I was looking at my socks and everything getting dressed. It was very bizarre. You know what? It was awesome. This is such an amazing franchise. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things prior to being here about the entire organization from Matt Cullen, playing with him, and a ton of guys. It’s surreal being a part of it.”
• Crosby on Zucker:
“He’s got a ton of speed. He fits the way we play as a group. You look at our line combinations, everybody plays with different guys depending on our health and things like that. He’s got a ton of speed, he creates a lot of loose pucks. I thought he got more and more comfortable as the game went on. That’s pretty typical. The more he gets comfortable, the better he’s going to be.”
• Rust on the team’s play:
“We had a ton of chances. We were down (17-8) after the first period in shots. After that, we played really well. I think we took too many penalties but I thought we did a pretty good job of killing them against a really good power play. We had a lot of chances. We’d just like to bury those a little bit more. In overtime, we have to be better.”
• Murray on the team’s play:
“That’s a good team. So you know they’re going to get their chances. We’re also a good team. So we got our chances. That game could have gone either way. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get it done there in overtime.”
• Sullivan on his power play which was 1 for 4:
“They were really good in the game. We weren’t as good late in the game. Our power play is at its best when we just take what they give us and we don’t force plays. I thought we forced some plays late in the game. As a result, we ended up chasing the puck or they got clears or whatever it may be. When we just take what they give us and we shoot the puck, a lot of times, we can create offense off of the spray or the rebound. The goal we got was an example. Sometimes, we try to pass it in the net or we’re looking for a better play and that play doesn’t materialize. If we can just take what the game gives us a little bit more consistently, I think we’ll give ourselves more of an opportunity to create and open up some lanes. We try to encourage (the players) to shoot the puck, especially from the top. If we can establish that point shot from the middle of the ice, a lot of times, that rebound is advantageous.”
• Hedman broke down Vasilevskiy v. Murray:
“(Vasilevskiy is) the best goalie in this league. I think it was a great goalie matchup tonight. Murray was unbelievable as well. Especially in that first period. We had a great first. We put up almost 20 shots and some really good looks. He made some great saves. Two great goalies.”