PITTSBURGH — After a rocky start to their Stanley Cup title defence, the Pittsburgh Penguins are just happy to be back on track.
They rebounded against the team they beat for the championship in June as Evgeni Malkin scored, Matt Murray stopped 26 shots and the Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 4-0 on Saturday night in a Stanley Cup Final rematch.
"I think we felt like we weren’t playing hard enough and the urgency wasn’t there the first couple games in general," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "Every guy felt like we all had better to give and you see the result you get tonight when we do that."
Olli Maatta, Ryan Reaves and Jake Guentzel also scored in Pittsburgh’s first win in its third game of the season. The two-time defending champion Penguins were outscored 15-5 in their first two games and coming off an ugly 10-1 loss at Chicago on Thursday night. It was their worst defensive performance since allowing 10 goals against San Jose in 1996.
Reaves, who wore a Pittsburgh Steelers’ football helmet when he met with the media after the game, also provided a physical response.
Reaves, acquired in a June trade with St. Louis, fought Austin Watson and Cody McLeod, finishing with 24 penalty minutes. He skated on a line with Crosby when the game turned chippy in the third period.
Murray, who allowed 11 goals on 65 shots in his first two games, posted his sixth career shutout. He also shut out Nashville in the final two games of the series in June.
"We weren’t happy with either of the games prior to this," Murray said. "This is our first really good team effort and I think every single guy in the room stepped up."
Nashville forward Nick Bonino faced his former team for the first time since signing a four-year, $16.4 million contract with the Predators in July. Bonino, who received his Stanley Cup ring from Pittsburgh on Saturday, scored in the first two games of the Final before a broken tibia in his left leg sidelined him for the rest of the playoffs.
The Predators went with Juuse Saros instead of Pekka Rinne, the franchise’s winningest goaltender. Saros, who earned his first NHL win last October against Pittsburgh, stopped 30 shots. Rinne was 0-3 on the road during the Stanley Cup and is 0-6-0 with an .822 save percentage lifetime in Pittsburgh.
"You have to find ways to win," forward Ryan Johansen said of the Predators’ 0-2 start. "It’s only two games, but we’re behind the eight ball."
Malkin put the Penguins in front 66 seconds into the game with a slap shot from the high slot that beat Saros to the blocker side. He has points in all three of Pittsburgh’s games this season.
Murray denied Pontus Aberg on a breakaway later in the period. It was significant because Guentzel made it a 2-0 game less than a minute later, crashing the net and converting a rebound from the slot.
Nashville carried the play early in the second period with six of the first seven shots, but Pittsburgh scored the next goal. Reaves scored his first for Pittsburgh when he tipped Maatta’s point shot between Saros’ pads.
Maatta scored the Penguins’ fourth goal 33 seconds into the third period.
It was the response Pittsburgh wanted after Thursday’s lopsided loss at Chicago.
"When you lose that bad, you seem to really look hard at what you need to improve," Crosby said. "I think it was a good lesson for us. You could tell we had a lot more urgency to our game and we played with a lot more bite."
NOTES: Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said D Ian Cole is out indefinitely and lost teeth after taking a one-time slap shot to the face from Predators D Roman Josi during a first-period power play. Cole, who did not return, quickly went down, but eventually got up on his own and immediately skated to the dressing room while crews cleaned blood from the ice. … Predators C Calle Jarnkrok played in his 250th NHL game. … Nashville F Kevin Fiala is day to day with an upper-body injury.
Predators: Host Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Penguins: Visit Washington on Wednesday.