PITTSBURGH (AP) Jake Guentzel tried to corral the puck, but it wasn’t quite cooperating. So as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward raced in on New Jersey goalie Mackenzie Blackwood in the middle of the second period on Friday night, Guentzel kept his stick on the ice and hoped for the best.
“It’s just kind of a cluster there when you lose a puck like that and you’re on a breakaway,” Guentzel said. “Just tried to get him to cheat over and it worked.”
As tends to happen when Guentzel is in close, particularly at home.
Guentzel managed find enough control to deke from his forehand to his backhand and back again, getting Blackwood to bite in the process. Guentzel tapped the puck into the open net for his team-leading 11th goal of the season - and seventh at PPG Paints Arena - to give the Penguins all the momentum they would need in a 4-1 victory.
“We’re playing well,” Guentzel said. “I think our record might not show some games that we’ve played well in but I think our top to bottom lineup, we’re just playing well and we’re filling spots and guys are stepping up big, so I think it’s been good.”
Guentzel has three goals and three assists during a four-game point streak that started shortly after the Penguins lost captain Sidney Crosby for at least six weeks following surgery to repair a sports hernia. Pittsburgh’s top line has kept rolling anyway as Guentzel, Rust and Evgeni Malkin have combined for eight goals and 12 assists in the five games since Crosby went down.
“I think they kind of feed off each other,” Penguins defenseman John Marino said. “They always kind of know where they are. They’re always in the right position.”
And they’re getting help. Marino and Jared McCann scored 25 seconds apart in the third period to chase Blackwood. Dominik Kahun added his sixth goal in 11 games as the Penguins snapped a four-game winless streak at home against New Jersey. Tristan Jarry trimmed his goals-against average to 1.81 by stopping 36 shots, weathering an early second-period surge from the Devils then coasting after Guentzel’s pretty move.
Taylor Hall scored his third of the season for the Devils. Blackwood made 30 saves before being removed in favor of Louis Domingue early in the third period after giving up goals on back to back shots.
“That one is not on Mackenzie,” New Jersey coach John Hynes said. “I mean, he kept us in the game in the first period. The pull was not regarding Mackenzie or the disappointment in him by any means.”
If the Penguins were drained following consecutive overtime losses to the streaking New York Islanders, it didn’t show. Pittsburgh carried play early and Kahun gave the Penguins the lead 7:51 into the first when linemate Dominik Simon created a turnover along the boards in the New Jersey zone and slipped the puck to Kahun. Kahun worked his way past Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller and flipped the puck past Blackwood’s stick to put Pittsburgh in front.
Hall evened it 31 seconds into the second with a power-play goal, the third Pittsburgh surrendered in two games following a franchise record-tying stretch in which the Penguins went 10 games without giving up a goal while a man down. New Jersey kept pressing, ripping off 12 shots at Jarry in the opening eight minutes of the second. Jarry, however, stood his ground.
The Penguins have been only so-so finishing off opponents this season, coming in 6-2-1 when leading after two periods, including a late collapse against the Islanders on Tuesday that ended with New York extending its point streak to 15 games. There would be no letdown this time against a New Jersey attack that’s struggling to score goals.
Pittsburgh’s Alex Galchenyuk forced a turnover on the forecheck early in the third and the puck came to McCann in the slot. McCann beat Blackwood high to make it 3-1. The buzz in the arena hadn’t died down when Marino pushed the lead to three goals on a slapshot from above the right circle that made its way through a sea of bodies and into the net to chase Blackwood.
“We have some surges, but there's still some inconsistencies to our game,” Devils center Travis Zajac said. “Just need more out of guys like me, out of other guys, if we want to turn this thing around."
NOTES: The Devils, ranked 29th in the league in scoring, have scored two or fewer goals in 12 of 21 games. ... New Jersey scratched D Matt Tennyson and C John Hayden. ... The Penguins D Juuso Riikola and C Joseph Blandisi in addition to Schultz. ... Pittsburgh improved to 3-2 on the second night of back-to-backs. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated 13:16 in his second game back after missing nearly three weeks with a lower-body injury. Hornqvist was also dropped during a second-period fight with New Jersey’s Damon Severson.
Devils: Welcome Detroit on Saturday night. New Jersey has dropped four straight to the Red Wings.
Penguins: Host Calgary on Monday. The teams split their two meetings last season.
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