The Penguins' Conor Sheary reaches for the puck against the Red Wings' Xavier Ouellet in the first period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins' Carl Hagelin congratulates Ben Lovejoy on a goal against Red Wings Petr Mrazek in the first period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins' Phil Kessel scores on Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek in the third period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on Red Wings' Brian Dumoulin in the second period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
The Red Wings' Dylan Larkin scores on Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Those were two doggedly similar hockey clubs on the Uptown ice Thursday night, so doggedly similar it was probably no coincidence that their latest entanglement fell in the same week as the Westminster Kennel Club dogged show.
These Penguins and Detroit Red Wings were separated by numerical margins so slim you couldn’t put a rolling puck between them, so no decisive outcome was logically foreseen.
Naturally, the Penguins rang up half a dozen goals and won by half of a half dozen, 6-3 being your final.
“I’m not gonna score from there on a wrist shot too often, or ever,” said defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who fired home the first goal of the night from very near the half boards beyond the right circle. “I waited for some Penguins to get to the front of the net. I wristed it as hard as I could, and got a very lucky bounce.”
Lovejoy’s first goal since those hours right before you put that Thanksgiving bird in the oven first clattered off the stick of Detroit center Darren Helm, then leaked between the pads of goaltender Petr Mrazik at 9:56 of the first. But that did little to foreshadow anything, and it certainly put no crack in the mirror images on display.
One team was 29-19-9, the other 28-19-8. Both were 3-1-1 in their previous five appointments. Both were coming off a loss in which they’d scored only once. One team was 4-3-1 in February and the other 4-2-1.
More emphatically, for official NHL statistical purposes, both were scoring 2.5 goals per game and both were allowing 2.5 goals per game. You can characterize all of this any way you’d like, but to say that the 2015-16 editions of these former Stanley Cup rivals were doggedly mediocre is no more wide of the goal mouth than a typical Phil Kessel shot, two of which actually went in Thursday night.
What separated them, if anything, was that the Penguins have no one in uniform quite so intriguing as Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, who is not only the fastest skater in the league based on testimony from the league’s All-Star weekend skills contest, and not only an All-Star, but also the first rookie to make a Red Wings season-opening roster in 25 years.
“A beautiful building and a great crowd,” Larkin said of his first professional visit to Pittsburgh. “They really love their Penguins so I was expecting a great playoff atmosphere and that’s what it was.”
The 15th pick in the 2014 draft, Larkin is 19, which stood as a nice coincidence the moment he flipped a back-hander past Marc-Andre Fleury at 2:19 of the second period for his team-leading 19th goal of the season, the one that tied the score, 2-2.
So two teams tied, 2-2, in period two seemed about right for the moment, given established themes, and yet something was clearly afoot.
Mike Sullivan’s team had become fairly goal-desperate, having scored only two in the previous three games, and the specific need for what gets called secondary scoring, goals from persons outside their top six forwards for example, had become a hot Penguins topic.
So naturally the goal that broke this open, coming late in the second period for a 4-2 Penguins lead (and they’re 22-0-0 when leading after two), was on a downright beauteous sequence involving fourth liners Kevin Porter, Conor Sheary, and Scott Wilson, who beat Mrazik from the left circle for his first NHL goal.
“We’ve heard that question about secondary scoring a lot of times, but that means a lot to get that one,” Wilson said about the shot that made it 4-2. “You depend on those top six forwards every night, but it’s good to pitch in.”
Sheary and Wilson flew in on Mrazik in the sequence that immediately preceded, but Wilson tipped the pass wide. Then suddenly Sheary was behind the net again, where he somehow got the puck around Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith back to Wilson out front.
“I couldn’t believe it; he made a great pass right on my tape — I wasn’t even expectin’ it to get through,” Wilson said. “He made a great second effort and I just tried to get myself available. It was pretty special comin’ from Sheary. We lived together down in Wilkes-Barre, so that was special to me.”
All of it had a chance to linger as a special turning point for the Penguins, who not only got secondary scoring, but they also got tertiary scoring from Lovejoy, and the exact brand of opportunistic scoring they’ve been missing from Kessel. At the start of a sequence in which they’ll play six of the next nine games at home, it might be time to make a move. I mean it’s only late February.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.