Observations from the Penguins' 5-3 win against the Senators:
First things first, there was no update on right winger Conor Sheary who left in the third period after being clipped in the face with a high stick from Senators' defenseman Ben Harpur. Based on the team-issued audio, head coach Mike Sullivan was not asked for an update from reporters or team employees in Ottawa.
As far as the game is concerned, it wasn't an ideal win. For the second time in roughly a week, the Penguins went down by three goals to a non-playoff team with a lot of AHL-caliber players in the lineup. It happened against the Sabres Feb. 29 and it happened again tonight.
Yet it doesn't happen against playoff teams. Maybe the Penguins don't have the same amount of focus against bad teams as they do against playoff teams. It happens. Perhaps there's reason to be optimistic on that front as they finish the season in Washington and Philadelphia.
After the poor start, their top two lines keyed another comeback win and brought the team within two points of clinching second place in the Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division.
Senators defenseman Erik Kalsson gave the Senators the game's first lead at 11:43 of the first period. After Senators center Mika Zibanejad beat center Sidney Crosby for a faceoff in the Penguins' right circle, he got the puck back to Karlsson at the right point. Karlsson fed a pass to right winger Mike Hoffman at the center point who fed it back to Karlsson. Karlsson controlled the puck on the wall and tried to slap-pass to Zibanejad in the left circle but the puck hit off right winger Patric Hornqvist's left skate and deflected by Murray's left skate. Assists went to Hoffman and Zibanejad.
Points on the season: 80— NHL (@NHL) April 6, 2016
Goals in his career: 100
Erik Karlsson is a special talent.https://t.co/jX1fwYJmBM
It was a 2-0 game 2:21 into the second. Harpur fed a pass from the right point to defenseman Chris Wideman on the left point. Wideman dealt it low to Hoffman in the right circle. Hoffman settled the puck, surveyed the zone and ripped a wrister. It glanced off the stick of right winger Phil Kessel then Murray's blocker and into the cage on the far side. Harpur and Wideman got assists.
They made it a 3-0 lead 1:12 later. Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau gained the offensive zone on the left wing and, under pressure from defenseman Kris Letang, he chipped it forward for center Zack Smith who darted in behind Letang. Smith settled the puck and from the left dot, he ripped a wrister by Murray's glove hand on the far side. Assists went to Pageau and defenseman Fredrik Claesson.
The Penguins got on the scoreboard with some hard work at 7:47 of the second. After a power play expired, center Nick Bonino chipped a puck from the left point behind the net. Hornqvist chased it down behind the net, fended off Zibanejad and swooped around the left of the cage on a wraparound attempt. Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond fended it off at first but Hornqvist kept digging like a miner before finally getting the puck past Hammond's right skate. Assists went to Bonino and defenseman Justin Schultz.
It became a one-goal game with 4:47 left in the second. After a television stoppage, Crosby beat Smith on a draw in the Senators' right circle, he got the puck back to Letang at the right point. Letang chopped a slapper which hit off a body in front. From the slot, Hornqvist chopped at the rebound which hit off Karlsson's right skate and deflected direct to Crosby positioned to the right of the cage. Crosby settled the puck and lifted a backhander past the glove hand of a scrambling Hammond. Hornqvist and Letang netted assists.
They tied the game 4:19 into the third period. Following a penalty kill, Bonino controlled a puck on the end board of he Ottawa zone and fed a pass to left winger Carl Hagelin darting into the slot. Hagelin's initial one-timer was rejected by Hammond. Hagelin jumped by Claesson and followed up on the rebound by firing a backhander past Hammond's blocker. Bonino had the lone assist.
The Penguins took their first lead with 5:57 left in regulation. Karlsson played a puck out of his left wing corner across the ice where it was stolen by Bonino at the right point. Bonino centered the puck to Hagelin streaking down the slot. With a full step on Pageau, shuffled what looked like a pass attempt for Kessel across the crease past Hammond's right skate, off the far post and into the cage. Bonino had the only assist.
-An empty net goal by Crosby with six seconds left secured the win:
-A huge sequence came in the third period after Hagelin's first goal. With centers Oskar Sundqvist and Eric Fehr in the penalty box, the Senators had a five-on-three power play for 1:32. The Senators managed to get six shots on net during that entire power-play sequence but couldn't figure out Murray.
-Another huge play came from Letang. Approximately two minutes after Fehr's penalty expired, the Senators had another scramble around the Penguins net and Senators right winger Alex Chiasson had a wide open net with Murray out of place. His backhander was blocked by Letang and cleared:
Kris Letang's block on Alex Chiasson: pic.twitter.com/9Ej3adCrQy— Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) April 6, 2016
-There's a saying in baseball that a closer isn't a really a closer until he blows a save. Maybe the same applies to starting goaltenders allowing iffy goals. Murray allowed a few preventable goals tonight but seemed to settle down as the game wore down. One mantra he's fond of saying is that once a goal is in the net, there's nothing he can do about it. He seemed to apply that tonight and buttoned things down after he was toasted for Ottawa's third goal.
-The second line - or elements of it - really keyed this comeback. Hagelin only recorded three shifts in the second period and responded by netting two goals, including the game winner. And Bonino continues to rack up assists.
It's a shame Sheary left the game as he did because he was one of the team's best players when they were trailing for most of the first and second period. He used his speed to force a few things in the offensive zone and was rewarded with extra shifts.
-The power play regressed a bit going 0 for 2 and it only generated three shots.
-Karlsson does some marvelous things with the puck and is an offensive force unlike any other in the NHL. He has 80 points. Oh... he's a defenseman by the way. In an era when offensive numbers continue to drop, that's a great total for for any player regardless of position. But the "defense" part of his job isn't always that sharp. Tonight was a great example of that. On Hagelin's first goal, Karlsson just kind of stood pat as Hagelin attacked the net. And on Hagelin's game winner, he had an ugly turnover which created the scoring play for the Penguins.
-After capturing the hearts and minds of the hockey world last season, Hammond (AKA The Hamburglar) looks very ordinary these days. Several of the Penguins' goals were preventable. If he makes just one routine save, this game could have been different.
-Every time we see Hoffman, he impresses us. He's a very good skater and he has a great release on his shot. If he had a little more stability at center, he could be a 40-goal scorer in the NHL.
-Right winger Bobby Ryan left the game in the second intermission due to an undisclosed ailment.
-Sullivan pointed out the five-on-three penalty kill:
“I thought it was huge. I thought it was the biggest part of the game for us. We got out of that unscathed. The guys that were on the ice, I thought did a terrific job. A couple of real nice shot blocks. Then Matt made some real key saves for us. I thought it was a key part of the game."
-Letang joked about his "save:"
"Best save of my career. But I think overall I'm better at playing defense and not being a goalie."
-Crosby lauded Letang's block:
"Really nice. Really nice. It's a big difference in the game right there. For him to get across and get the stick on it was a huge play in the game. He's been playing great at both ends of the ice. Just another example of what he does for us back there."
-Sullivan didn't like the start to the game:
“For me, it wasn't the start we wanted. I don't think we were at our best but we found a way to win and we found a way to get points and we climbed back into it. Regardless of where teams sit in the standings, there's good hockey players. They're well-coached teams. That team played well tonight. When we get down three goals, that's a tough climb. I loved the resilience that our guys showed to climb back into it one goal at a time. For me, that's kind of been part of the identity of this group moving forward. They've shown themselves that regardless of how the game goes, especially early on if we're down in games, they have the ability to come back. I think it's an indication of the mindset of the group right now there's a mental toughness there that we can battle through some of that adversity even though we're not at our best. And I didn't think we were. I didn't think we were as sharp as we've been but certainly we've found a way to win.”
-Crosby wasn't crazy about it either:
"It wasn't pretty at the start. We didn't work nearly as hard as we needed to. They played hard. They forced turnovers and buried some chances. We had a lot of time and fortunately we were able to get back in it."
-Hagelin was critical of the start:
"We know we didn't play the way we wanted in the first. Still, it was only 1-0 so we thought that we'd get a quick one in the second which we didn't. We played even sloppier in the first five minutes of the second. Sometimes that's what it takes for us to get it going and it was a good response."
"It's one of those games where we start flat and we don't get anything done. We have to work on those starts, especially going into the playoffs. ... We don't like that. I wouldn't say we're going to rely on the fact that we're scoring five goals [a game] right now but I think when guys are confident like that scoring goals, its easier to think we're going to get back in the game."
-The Senators had a 30-28 lead in shots.
-Zibanejad led the game with eight shots.
-Kessel led the Penguins with four shots.
-Karlsson led the game with 31:10 of ice time.
-Letang led the Penguins with 26:23 of ice time.
-The Senators controlled faceoffs, 37-28 (57 percent).
-Zibanejad was 12 for 15 (80 percent).
-Center Matt Cullen was 9 for 16 (56 percent).
-Defenseman Ben Lovejoy led the game with four blocked shots.
-Claesson led the Senators with three blocked shots.
-The Penguins had a 16-game streak of outshooting the opposition snapped. The last time they were outshot was in a 4-1 home win against the Rangers March 3. You may remember that game due to Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist flipping the net (and denying the Penguins of at least one shot).
-Hornqvist (102 points) surpassed right winger Nick Harbaruk and left winger Warren Young (101 points each) for 85th place on the franchise's career scoring list.
-It's been nearly two decades since the Penguins scored goals like this:
Pens have scored 5+ goals in 5 straight games for the first time since Dec. 30-Jan. 10 in 1996-97 season, when they had 5, 6, 7, 5, 5.— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) April 6, 2016
The Penguins swept a regular season series from the Senators for the fourth time. They previously did it in 1994-95, 1995-96 and 2012-13.
-Harpur and Claesson each recorded their first career NHL points.
-Senators right winger Buddy Robinson made his NHL debut.
(Photos: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)