Penguins: Little, Hellebuyck help Jets blank Pittsburgh


The Penguins return to their struggling ways as they are shut out by the Jets on the road in Winnipeg.

In the first meeting between these two teams, the Winnipeg Jets shutout the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 at MTS Centre.

The first period was disastrous compared to the game the night before.  The Penguins came out flat, they fell victim to the Jets’ relentless forecheck. Their passes were not connecting and they failed to generate shots on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck early in the game.

They even took two penalties in the period as well without forcing Winnipeg (the third most penalized team) to commit one.  The first one was a hooking call against Sergei Plotnikov on Blake Wheeler and Ben Lovejoy hooked Bryan Little on a breakaway attempt that awarded Little a penalty shot.

Lovejoy’s penalty would prove costly to the black and gold as Little skated from left to right blistering a wrist shot top right corner on Penguins net minder Jeff Zatkoff at 14:46 of the first frame to open up and conclude the scoring all at once as Little’s goal served as the game-winner.

Dec 27, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff (37) gets set during a penalty shot taken by Winnipeg Jets center Bryan Little (18) during the first period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The second period was Pittsburgh’s best period of the night.  They outshot the Jets 14-5 and consistently hemmed the home team in their own end for extended periods of time throughout the frame.  Hellebuyck stood tall in the crease thwarting any grade A opportunities that arose before him.

The third period for the Penguins acted as the middle ground.  In the beginning of the period, things were a little stale, but as the period progressed, the play elevated.  The last five minutes, in particular, were their best as they fired a flurry of vulcanized rubber in Hellebuyck’s direction.

When coach Mike Sullivan signaled Zatkoff to the bench in favor of the extra attacker, the Penguins were knocking on the doorstep.  Shot after shot and chance after chance arose for the Steel town boys and with 65 seconds remaining in the contest, Hellebuyck was sprawled out on his stomach out of position twice, forcing two glorious chances at a vacant net.  Defenseman Tyler Myers slid to the rescue and utilized every inch of his six-foot-eight-inch frame to put himself into position to knock away both shots.  He took the first, and potentially second, shot off of his face.

Those two chances would be the last ones that Pittsburgh was granted before time expired to end the game.  With the help of Little and Myers’s heroic efforts on the goal line (along with 30 saves by Hellebuyck), the Penguins’ offense was stymied.

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According to the NHL Public Relations’ twitter page and Elias Sports Bureau, this was the third time in NHL history that a team won a game 1-0 in regulation with the lone goal being scored on a penalty shot.  Out of the three times that this feat occurred, the Penguins fell on the wrong side of the decision twice.

Hellebuyck’s shutout was the first of his NHL career, and Zatkoff recorded 27 saves on 28 shots as the hard luck loser in tonight’s contest.  Zatkoff dropped his fifth straight decision (four of those were in regulation).

Takeaways from tonight’s game

Zatkoff = Solid;  Hellebuyck = Out of this world

After he allowed the penalty shot goal to Little late in the first period, Zatkoff was solid throughout the course of the game.  The Jets tested him on numerous occasions throughout the game, including a grade A opportunity for Jets forward Drew Stafford, and he thwarted everything after that.  He robbed Stafford when he laid out paddle down after he was pulled out of position to cut down the angle on Little.  The game could have (and should have) resulted in a bigger margin of defeat, but Zatkoff did his job to save the bacon.

Hellebuyck was out of this world tonight for the Winnipeg Jets.  Granted, there were times where the Jets hung him out to dry and the Penguins failed to cash in, but he was very controlled and fundamentally sound in his movements to keep the puck in front of him.  He stayed calm, cool and collected, and made the routine saves while turning aside shots that were not routine.  Hellebuyck is the goalie of the future for this franchise, and it is promising to see him take over the number one role with Ondrej Pavelec suffered a knee injury.


That is how many minutes are in regulation, but the Penguins failed to play well for 60 minutes.  They played well for about 25, maybe 30 minutes in the hockey game.  That won’t cut it against a Winnipeg Jets team that is relentless in all aspects of the game.  As coach Sullivan mentioned to the media, “I don’t think it was our most complete effort of the past probably four games that we have played.”  He also mentioned that they “didn’t manage the puck as well as we have in the important areas of the rink,” “turned the puck over a fair amount of times” in the neutral zone, and “we make it easier on our opponents when we don’t manage the puck in that area of the rink.”  In short:  thank you Jeff for keeping this game close because it shouldn’t have been.

Next: Penguins look to keep good times rolling versus Jets

The Penguins can’t leave standings points on the table

The team is tied for fifth in the Metropolitan Division and the games played can slowly creep up on a team.  They are within striking distance still of a playoff spot, but they wasted their get-out-of-jail-for-free cards when they went on the nasty stretch for about a month.  Three of their next five games are home, but four of the five games are against opponents in playoff position (Toronto on Wednesday, Detroit on Thursday, Islanders on Saturday, and Blackhawks in a home-and-home set on Jan. 5 and 6).