The Penguins were in a good place on Thursday.
While most of us in Western Pennsylvania were dealing with sideways rain or the frozen variety and temperatures in the 40s, the Penguins shed their shirts and got a healthy dose of vitamin D on the shores of Fort Lauderdale.
Another good place they’ve recently resided.
Entering Thursday, they were riding a season-best six-game winning streak.
“It obviously boosts everybody’s confidence,” Penguins forward Teddy Blueger said Wednesday at the team’s facility in Cranbury. “It puts everyone in a better mood. Obviously, we played pretty good hockey, even in some games where we weren’t very good. We showed good character.
“We had to win in different ways and rely on different guys to win.”
The Penguins’ special teams proved to be very reliable on Thursday as they cruised to a 4-2 win at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida. That win took a toll, however, when superstar center forward Evgeni Malkin left the contest in the 8th. 05 in the third period after he was injured while scoring a power-play goal.
Penguins forward Sidney Crosby slapped a shot toward the cage from the top of the left circle. Malkin, on the right side of the crease, took a hit on the outside of his right knee, which has undergone multiple surgeries throughout his career, and immediately fell to the ice as the puck deflected into the net for his 10th goal of the season.
He eventually made it to the visitors’ locker room with the help of teammates, but did not return.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan did not provide a significant update on Malkin’s status, though he did suggest “the initial prognosis is positive” when speaking to the media on Sunrise after the game.
Teammate Kris Letang gave a similar assessment.
“He’ll be fine. He’s tough,” Letang said.
Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the season at the 5:30 mark. From the center of the scrimmage, Panthers linebacker Brandon Montour threw a pass to Eric Staal low in the right circle. Fighting off a check by Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin, Staal fired a shot into the net as he fell. Goalkeeper Tristan Jarry denied the shot but allowed the rebound to the right side of the box, where Lomberg cleared with a shot that clipped Jarry’s left arm and flew into the box. Stahl and Montour had assists.
The Penguins’ first three goals came via special teams.
Letang’s shorthanded goal at 4:17 of the second period tied the game at 1-1. Penguins forward Ryan Pauling lumberman Ryan Pauling made a diving attempt to clear the ice as he went down the right half wall in his own zone. Forward Brian Rust won possession in the neutral zone and gained possession of the offensive blue line on the left wing. Drawing in Montour, Rust fired a backhand pass down the right circle, where Letang took a turn and beat goaltender Sergey Bobrovsky’s glove for his second goal of the season and fifth shorthanded goal of his career, a new record. for defenders. Rust and Pauling had assists.
Penguins forward Jake Guentzel gave his team its first lead, scoring his 14th goal on a power play opportunity at 12:42 of the second. From high in the offensive zone, Malkin scanned the scene and cut a pass to the right of the crease, where Guntzel set his right skate to deflect a puck past Bobrovsky’s left leg and into the cage. Bobrovsky protested the goal and the officials briefly reviewed the legality of Guntzel’s actions, but the score stood. The assists went to Malkin and Letang.
Malkin’s goal, the eventual game-winner, came off assists from Crosby and forward Rickard Rakell.
After Malkin’s goal and subsequent layoff, the Panthers pulled within one at 10:14 of the third period thanks to forward Sam Reinhart’s ninth goal. From the right end of the offensive zone, Panthers forward Carter Verhege made a backhand pass across the ice to the left end, where Reinhart one-timed Jarry’s right shoulder on the nearside. The only goal assist was made by Verkhene.
Guentzel scored again at 18:42 of the final period on an empty net to secure the victory. Crosby and forward Brock McGinn had assists.
Jarry made 32 saves on 34 shots as his record improved to 14-3-3.
• The Penguins’ seven-game hitting streak is their longest since the 10-game stretch they enjoyed between Dec. 4 and Dec. 6 last season.
• The Penguins have a season-best seven straight power play goals. In their first 23 games, they scored at least one goal on the power play in just nine contests.
• The Penguins’ most recent short-handed goal by a defenseman came from Jack Johnson in a 4-3 home win against the Boston Bruins on January 19, 2020. Johnson scored the game-tying goal and helped propel the Penguins to the victory. comeback win (they scored three goals).
• Letang was previously tied with Randy Carlyle and Larry Murphy for the shortest career scoring streak by a defenseman in franchise history.
Penguins career leaders in shorthanded goals by defensemen. pic.twitter.com/WSd9UccpGg
— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) December 16, 2022
• Guentzel is tied with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in shutouts (5 each).
• The Penguins scratched forwards Drew O’Connor (healthy), Jason Zucker (undisclosed injury) and defenseman Mark Friedman (healthy).
• Zucker’s scratched forward Danton Heinen replaced him in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in five of the previous seven games.
• The Panthers were only able to dress 19 players Thursday because star forward Matthew Tkachuk was scratched. According to Sunrise Media, Tkachuk is out due to an undisclosed illness that has affected other members of the roster.
According to Cap Friendly, the Panthers have just $600,125 in salary cap space, preventing them from recalling the minor league affiliate.
• Aaron Ekblad set a new franchise record for games played by a quarterback in his 574th career contest for the Panthers. He previously shared the score with Robert Svehla (573).