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Empty Thoughts: Penguins 4, Rangers 3 (SO)

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Observations from the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout win against the Rangers:

It was a cloudy, dreary, bleak day on Friday.

That’s to say it was very typical for Pittsburgh in January. Or December. Or February. Or November. Or March. Or many potions of the other seven months of the year.

There was one ray of sunshine, however.

It came in the form of a lean kid from Quebec who never seems to have a bad day.

And Friday was anything but an ugly 24 hours for P.O Joseph.

It might have been the best day of his 21 years of life.

Making his NHL debut, Joseph logged 13:02 of ice time on 19 shifts and even played a direct role in creating the Penguins’ game-tying goal in the third period.

Even beyond the tangible, he just looked good. He looked like he’s been playing in the NHL for a handful of seasons. Joseph displayed a comfort and confidence that just didn’t fit the profile of a prospect appearing in an NHL game for the first time.

“Today and yesterday, I felt like my nervous level was pretty high,” Joseph said via video conference. “But once the game started, it’s hockey. I’ve been playing this sport forever. I just told myself to enjoy the first one because it only comes once.”

The Penguins welcomed Joseph prior to the game when they pulled the time-honored prank of having a rookie skate a lap in warmups by himself prior to his NHL debut.

Joseph was fortunate enough to have his mother in attendance for the game as well.

“I was really grateful my mom was able to make it,” Joseph said. “It (due) to her that I’m here today and all the sacrifices that she did. It was great to know that she was there.”

While certainly humble, Joseph has a bubbly, effervescent personality and always seems to improve the mood of anyone who interacts with him. Always smiling, Joseph is an engaging and charming human and he could easily become one of the more popular humans on this team through his convivial nature as well as his high-end skill.

Whatever path his career in Pittsburgh takes, he certainly took a wonderful first step.

“It’s a been a roller coaster today,” Joseph said. “A lot of emotion. The guys have been great with me in the room. I felt like I was part of the team, first game and all. … I’m just happy that it’s behind me.”

What happened

The Penguins’ second line scored its first five-on-five goal of the season to open the scoring 10:29 into regulation. Corralling a puck at the right point, Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci whipped a wrister at the cage. Penguins forward Bryan Rust, positioned to the right of the crease, gained position on ex-Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson and re-directed the puck under the blocker of goaltender Igor Shesterkin for his first goal of the season. Ceci and forward Evgeni Malkin registered assists.

The Rangers cashed in just 2:41 into the second period. Just as a Rangers power-play opportunity had expired, Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin attempted to play a puck up ice off his own right wall. In the process, Rangers forward Phillip Di Giuseppe smashed him into the boards and stole the puck. As Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel stumbled in reaction to the turnover, Rangers forward Filip Chytil, claimed the puck and sauntered in on net. With little resistance, Chytil drew Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out of position with a handful of dekes and tucked a backhander into the cage for his second goal. Di Giuseppe had the only assist.

A power-play goal gave the Rangers their first lead at 5:18 of the second. After Penguins defenseman Kris Letang made an errant backhand clear from behind his own cage, Rangers forward Artemi Panarin claimed the puck on the right half wall then fed it to defenseman Adam Fox at the left point. Fox then dealt it to the right point for Panarin who moved it back to Fox. With a shooting lane open, Fox boomed a one-timer past Jarry’s blocker on the near side for his first goal. The lone assist went to Panarin.

It became a 3-1 game at the 5:42 mark of the second. After making a zone entry on the left wing, Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller left a simple drop pass at the point for Di Giuseppe who chucked a wrister on net. Jarry made the initial save but booted a rebound to the right of the crease. Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko darted past Penguins defenseman John Marino and cleaned up the garbage for his second goal. Di Giuseppe and Miller had assists.

Having allowed three goals in a span of 3:01, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called a timeout to get his team organized.

The Penguins cashed in on their own power-play chance, albeit with some help from the Rangers, at 16:56 of the second. Taking a pass low on the left wing, Penguins forward Jared McCann tried to force a pass through the crease but had it blocked by Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren. On the ensuing scramble, Lindgren tapped the puck into his own cage with his left glove and past Shesterkin’s left skate. McCann was credited with his first goal.

They tied the game at 11:23 of the third period. Lugging the puck through the neutral zone, Penguins forward Kasperi Kapanen gained the offensive zone on the left wing, hesitated a bit in the left circle to allow the play to develop and fed a soft pass to the left point for an on-rushing Joseph. Blasting a one-timer, Joseph missed wide on the near side but banked the puck off the end boards. The puck deflected to the right of the cage where Penguins forward Teddy Blueger was Johnny-on-the-spot and tapped in the easy rebound goal for his second score. Joseph and Kapanen netted assists.

In the shootout, forward Jake Guentzel and Letang scored goals to secure the win.

The Rangers’ only goal was scored by forward Artemi Panarin.

Statistically speaking

• The Rangers led in shots, 34-29.

• Rust led the game with 11 (!) shots.

• Di Giuseppe led the Rangers with five shots.

• Letang led the game with 29:42 of ice time on 32 shifts.

• Fox led the Rangers with 26:02 of ice time on 33 shifts.

• The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 35-18 (66 %).

• Penguins forward Sidney Crosby was 16 for 22 (73 %).

• Zibenejad was 8 for 19 (42 %).

• Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba led the game with three blocked shots.

• Dumoulin led the Penguins with two blocked shots.

Randomly speaking

• This was a pretty big moment for Jarry. When the Rangers collected three goals in quick succession during the second period, he was looking like he was getting overwhelmed as was the case during the first two games of the season in Philadelphia.

The third goal he allowed wasn’t ideal. It was off a bad rebound. That time out helped reset his team and him. After that, he just looked in charge and rarely seemed to be unsure of himself. A few days “off” as the backup goaltender, working on the finer points of his game with goaltending coach Mike Buckley, did a world of good.

• The Penguins getting an even-strength goal from their second line was no small thing. The trio of Rust, Malkin and Zucker has been generating chances through the first four games but saw no reward. Beyond the opening goal, that line was probably the Penguins’ best.

• It should be noted Zucker did take a bad hooking penalty in the offensive zone early in the third period while his team was down by a goal. And he remains without a goal after five games. It’s been a struggle for him so far this season.

• Don’t overlook Ceci’s play. Beyond helping generate the opening goal, he just looked comfortable despite being paired with a new partner in Marino and being asked to play his off side at times throughout the contest.

Considering he was somewhat underwhelming in the Penguins’ first game of the season then a healthy scratch for three consecutive contests, this was quite a rebound for Ceci.

• Sure, one of the Rangers’ defensemen knocked the puck into the net. And it came with the second unit. But the Penguins got another power play. They’ve generated goals with the man advantage in four of their five games this season.

• The third line of McCann, Mark Jankowski and Brandon Tanev had its most unremarkable game this season to date. It wasn’t bad by any means. But inert.

• Kapanen was having a really quiet game until he made the zone entry that led to Blueger’s goal.

• Pairing Joseph with Ruhwedel was a shrewd move. Ruhwedel plays a pretty simple game and can make life easier for his partner, particularly when he’s a rookie in his first NHL game.

• It was tough to get a read on the Rangers and what their identity is. There is a ton of young skilled players who can do some real damage to a goaltender’s goals against average. All three of their goals in this game were scored by players 22 or younger. But on Friday, it looked like a loosely organized collection of skill more than anything working in a cohesive fashion.

The Rangers aren’t exclusive to that issue. Just about every NHL team is dealing with that issue considering there wasn’t a true training camp or any preseason games. It’s probably fair to anticipate the Rangers to look much better as they get further into the season.

• Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere, the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, was difficult to notice on Friday. He’s four games into his rookie season and has yet to record a point.

No first overall pick has ever dealt with a debut season under conditions like this so his play should be observed through that lens. But he did little to stand out on Friday.

Historically speaking

• Joseph’s point was the first of his career.

• Joseph became the second player in franchise history to wear No. 73. His predecessor is Rangers defenseman Jack Johnson.

• Joseph became the seventh former first-round pick of the Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise to play for the Penguins:

• With defenseman Marcus Pettersson missing his first game since becoming a member of the Penguins, his team-high consecutive games streak of 130 came to an end. Blueger became the Penguins’ new “ironman” at 93 consecutive games.

• Rust’s 11 shots were a career high.

• Jarry (35 wins) surpassed Gilles Meloche (34) for 15th place on the franchise’s career goaltending wins list.

• Miller recorded his first career point.

Publicly speaking

• Jarry on what he was able to work on during his two-game “hiatus:”

“It was just getting back to basics for me. I wanted to get better every day in practice and then just work on the things to improve my game to make sure I was staying sharp and be better tonight than I was in the previous two games.”

• Sullivan was certainly high on Joseph:

“He had a terrific first game in the NHL. He was skating. He made some nice subtle plays to help us get out of our end. You could see his skating ability, how strong of a skater he is. He’s got a long reach. I thought he defended hard. And he played within himself. He kept the game simple. He had a terrific game.”

• Letang on Joseph:

“He’s a solid, two-way defenseman. He looked like he played 10 years in the league. He’s so calm and composed. And we saw that he can bring some offense. He played really well.”

•Letang on his team needing to stage another comeback to get a win:

“It’s not ideal. We don’t want to get used to that. We want to break that kind of a streak. It’s a fast-paced game out there. We have to get to our game as soon as the puck drops and we have to keep it for 60 minutes. We’ll take the points but we have to learn.”

• Sullivan wasn’t crazy about needing another comeback effort:

“We played hard after we got down a couple of goals. But once again, it seems to be a little bit of a recurring theme where it takes that type of adversity in the game for us to respond. We’ve got to find ways to have better starts and try to dictate the terms earlier than we did. … But I thought we played hard after that stretch in the beginning of the second period.”

• Sullivan lauded Ceci:

“Cody had a good game. I know he was eager to get back in the lineup. He played with a lot of enthusiasm. He defended hard. Obviously, we’re banged up back there. So to have a veteran presence like him in the lineup that can be a calming influence, I think was a big help for our team. He had a real strong game.”

Visually speaking

Game summary.

Event summary.

• Highlights:

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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Penguins/NHL | Sports

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