Mike Sullivan’s demands for what he wanted to see out of the Penguins to open Thursday’s home game against the Boston Bruins weren’t all that complicated.
“Just energy and simplifying the game,” the team’s coach said following Thursday morning’s skate at PPG Paints Arena. “I think it’s important that we try to get momentum from the drop of the puck. We’ve got to bring a lot of energy. We’ve got to keep the game simple and play a straight-ahead game. “
Thursday’s contest was fairly free of detours for the Penguins, who took a very direct route to an efficient 4-0 victory.
As for the Bruins, they encountered a resolute roadblock in the form of Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith, who made a career-high 52 saves and recorded his third shutout of the season while improving his record to 9-5-5.
The 52 saves set a new franchise record for a shutout victory.
DeSmith’s ninth career shutout came in his second game as the team’s de facto top goaltender in place of All-Star starter Tristan Jarry, who is sidelined indefinitely due to a right foot injury.
“Casey was unbelievable tonight,” Penguins forward Jason Zucker said. “He obviously made every save. He was calm. It’s easy to play in front of him when he’s playing like that. He made a lot of great plays.
“He was definitely our all-star tonight, that’s for sure.”
The victory was tempered by the loss of forward Jeff Carter, who left the game at 13:54 of the third period due to an undisclosed injury. Sullivan did not provide an update on his status following the game.
All-Star forward Jake Guentzel opened the scoring 7:49 into regulation. After a wrist shot by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel from center point of the offensive zone was denied by goaltender Jeremy Swayman, Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton made a weak attempt clearing attempt that was intercepted by Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson near the home bench.
As the Bruins made an ill-timed line change, Matheson fed a cross-ice pass to Penguins forward Rickard Rakell, who shoved it forward to linemate Sidney Crosby at the offensive blue line. Almost seamlessly, Crosby centered the puck to an on-rushing Guentzel, who surged past Bruins forward Charlie Coyle down the slot and fired a forehand shot through Swayman’s five holes for his 38th goal of the season. Crosby and Rakell registered assists.
Zucker made it a 2-0 contest at 6:10 of the second period with his eighth goal. After Zucker won a puck battle on the boards near the visiting penalty box, defenseman Marcus Pettersson settled it within the Penguins ‘zone and fed a cross-ice pass to defensive partner John Marino near the Bruins’ bench.
Reading the ice like an instruction manual, Marino snapped a centering pass up ice to Carter, who adroitly redirected the puck to the left wing, allowing Zucker to attack with momentum. Fending off a diving poke check attempt by 6-foot-6 Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo, Zucker lifted a wrister over Swayman’s glove hand for his eighth goal. Carter and Marino had assists.
“It was a great play by the rest of the guys,” Zucker said. “(Carter) made unbelievable chip pass to me there and gave me some space to go in.”
Guentzel put another one in the Bruins’ net at the 16:12 mark of the middle frame. After Carlo fumbled the puck on a clearing attempt in his own slot by firing it into the legs of defensive partner Matt Grzelcyk. The puck ricocheted to the left circle, where Penguins defenseman Kris Letang alertly corralled it then slipped a cross-ice pass to Guentzel low in the right circle. With Swayman sliding to his left, Guentzel lifted a wrister over the goaltender’s glove on the near side. Letang logged the lone assist.
An empty net goal at 17:55 of the third period allowed Guentzel to complete a hat trick and reach the 40-goal mark for the second time in his career. There were no assists.
“It’s a cool number,” said Guentzel, whose career high of 40 came in the 2018-19 season. “You put a lot of time and effort into this game. Just to score goals in this league is pretty special. I’m fortunate enough to play alongside pretty good players and just have a good surrounding crew with coaches and teammates and staff. Just a cool milestone. “
DeSmith looked pretty cool in the third period despite being bombarded with 22 shots.
The sheer volume of salvos the Bruins lobbed at DeSmith was somewhat intentional, however. For the visitors and the hosts.
“They throw a lot of pucks from all around the place,” Zucker explained. “They’re a team that looks for those second-chance rebounds. They throw them from the boards. They’re just throwing pucks from everywhere at the net. And they create a lot of havoc around there. It was a great job by Casey kind of directing rebounds out of the scoring areas. Our defense cleared the net front really well. As forwards, we were trying to get back and (tie up the sticks of the Bruins’ attackers) and work our way out into the shooting lanes. “
“You’d rather give up a shot from the point than from the hashmarks. You’re going to give Casey a much better opportunity to make that save. “
All 52 of them.
“Obviously, a 52-save shutout always builds the confidence a little bit,” DeSmith said. “But coming into this game, I felt like I was prepared. I’ve been working for this moment for a long time to step in there in case something happened to (Jarry).
“I’m just happy to help the team get some wins.”
• DeSmith set a franchise record for saves in a shutout. The previous mark was held by Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who made 45 saves in a 4-0 home win against the Dallas Stars at the Mellon Arena on March 9, 2004.
S DeSmith made the fourth-most saves in a shutout victory in NHL history:
52 The 52 shots the Penguins allowed were a season-high. Their previous high-water mark of 45 was established in a 6-2 road loss to the Los Angeles Kings then matched with a 4-2 road win against the Bruins on Feb. 8 and a 6-3 home loss to the Washington Capitals on April 9.
S DeSmith’s previous career-high in saves was a 48-save effort in a 5-3 home win against the Bruins on Dec. 14, 2018.
Ent Guentzel’s hat trick was the Penguins’ first against the Bruins in 24 years (nearly to the day). Forward Martin Straka scored three times in a 5-2 win at the Civic Arena on April 18, 1998.
Ent Guentzel recorded his fifth career hat trick and his second of the season. He previously scored three goals in a 4-1 road win against the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 4.
• The Penguins lead the NHL with 22 empty net goals this season. The NHL record of 24 was set by the 2015-16 Stars.
• Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin served the final game of a four-game suspension the NHL handed him for cross checking Nashville Predators defenseman Mark Borowiecki in the face on April 10.
• In addition to Malkin, the Penguins scratched defenseman Mark Friedman (healthy) and Jarry (right foot).
• The Penguins wore white jerseys at home to accommodate the Bruins, who wore black. In the midst of a two-game road trip, the Bruins were asked by the NHL to wear black for a road contest Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues, who wore white throwback jerseys, primarily for marketing purposes.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .