It was a matchup of two of the past three Stanley Cup champions, and it didn't disappoint. Highlighted by a total of three total goals in 1:13 of game-play towards the middle of the third period, two of them scored by Pittsburgh, which proved to be enough to take a win away from Anaheim.
Kris Letang with a rough series leading up to the game's opening goal....First a bad clearing attempt from behind his net around the wall (where he had no friendly jerseys in sight) led to a turnover. Then as the puck got to the front of the net; Letang froze hand-cuffed, unable to make a split second decision on whether to help a teammate try to neutralize Corey Perry.
Look at these absurd totals for the Penguins top power-play unit for total ice-time in the first period: 9:22 Crosby, 7:55 Guerin, 7:54 Kunitz, 9:13 Goligoski, 9:17 Letang. But when you spend 40% of the period on the PP that happens....On the other hand, 2:39 Selanne, 3:58 Getzlaf -- those guys don't kill penalties so they barely got to get in the rythym of the game with those first period minutes.
Letang would make up for his gaffe in the second period. He took a stick to the choppers but stayed in the game. Later, on a delayed penalty against Anaheim, Letang cut to the middle of the rink and put a hard shot on goal that "had eyes" to avoid the bodies in front and hit the back of the net.
It was nice to see Letang show some authority. Perhaps he too was tired of seeing Goligoski and Crosby pass the puck to one another?
Corey Perry would strike again pounding home a rebound to make it 2-2 by the end of the 2nd period.
Then the flurry of three goals in 1:13 of gameplay:
- First a total team effort by Pittsburgh; Dan Bylsma re-united "the third line" of Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Kennedy and they cycled well on this shift. Credit Jay McKee with a nice hold in before Staal found a diving TK who poked the puck back to Goligoski. With Cooke right in Hiller's field of vision Goose made no mistakes driving the puck to the back of the net.
- Anaheim bounced back on the next shift with some zone time of their own. In my recollection, this was truly the first "soft" goal of the season allowed by Marc-Andre Fleury, he wasn't tight enough to the post and Saku Koivu popped out from behind the net and squeezed a shot by him. Tie game 3-3.
- Undeterred, Pittsburgh left the same exact five man unit on the ice (Pascal Dupuis - Craig Adams - Mike Rupp with Letang and Brooks Orpik) while Anaheim elected to change. The Pens got in the zone and moved the puck all around the blueline. Eventually the defense found Dupuis who ripped a hard slapper for the game winner.
That would be the last goal, but certainly not the last of the action. Both teams continued to press but nothing went in. Sidney Crosby, who didn't factor into the offense, made a terrific defensive play by DIVING into an abandoned net (Fleury was out of the crease, lunging for the puck). The shot came but Crosby went all Rob Scuderi on the Ducks, saving the goal.
- Hate to say it but overall it was a tough night for the runaway winner for Pensburgh player of the month Alex Goligoski. Goose, who's been sensational this season, had his first "off" night. In addition to not converting much on the PP early, he had a wide open net in the 2nd (just prior to Rupp's goal) and misfired. Goligoski also couldn't tie up or stop Perry from scoring Anaheim's second goal. Everyone's entitled to a bad day now and then, hopefully Gogo brushes it off and moves forward.
- Still, Goligoski did score an important goal and no defenseman in the league has more, so perhaps that's a little rough on his performance. More experience for him to draw on and be a better player in the long-run, that's for sure.
- On a night where neither Jordan Staal nor Sidney Crosby were forces offensively, both saved sure goals at point blank range. When your best offensive players are your best defensive players that's a good sign. Those two also won 54.8 of their combined faceoffs.
- Thumbs down to the official Anaheim scorer who only awarded Brooks Orpik one hit (in the last minute of the game). No way #44 didn't record a hit when he plastered Koivu and Joffrey Lupul in plays that stand out in my mind. Overall hits were officially 26-21 in favor of Anaheim, which may have been about right, but come on man.
- Power-play was power-less tonight going a dreadful 0 for 7. The last PP was only 1 second at the end of the game, so it was really a true 0 for 6. But still it was bad. Guys like Guerin and Kunitz racked up PP minutes and didn't do much to justify it. Will there be a change in philosophy to get guys like Kennedy and Staal more time? The question deserves to be asked.
- Guerin, in particular, didn't have a game to remember in number 1200 of his NHL career. He was -2, nicked with 4 giveaways and didn't have any real scoring chances, despite piling up the time on the man advantage early.
- Tyler Kennedy, on the other hand, was my player of the game. In his first game back from injury he only got 13:18 of playing time but still had a tied for team high three shots (and a team high seven attempted shots), he got 2 assists, was a game high +3 and had 3 blocked shots. He's a whirling blur of activity and was excellent tonight, providing a badly needed spark for his team.
- In case you were wondering, our old friend Ryan Whitney played a game high 28:37, though it wasn't very eventful. Whitney's among the league leaders in ice-time this season, so it's nice to see he has seemingly recovered from his feet problems enough to play a lot.
At day's end, a tremendous team effort lead Kennedy and Letang. As they've done for quite some while, the Pens found a way to get offense with unlikely players in Rupp and Dupuis coming through with goals. Fleury didn't have his best night, but he flashed his glove late to make a game saving effort. When you're on the road, it's about finding a way to win. Pittsburgh did tonight, and now are among the best in the history of the league (also with the New Jersey Devils) by extending their mark to 7-0-0 on the road.