It seems like the Pittsburgh Penguins have played the Detroit Red Wings more often than they've played some Eastern Conference teams. If you start in May 2008, Pittsburgh and Detroit have locked horns 16 times, which is obviously the most of any current East/West rivalry these days. The teams know each other. They play at a high level, and they don't ease up.
The Red Wings may have come into the game under the playoff line (thanks mainly to long-term injuries that would dehabilitate any team, and they may have used a new goalie in Jimmy Howard. But their performance didn't, as they battled Pittsburgh on the road to a draw on the scoreboard before the Pens big guns came through in the gimmick to earn the extra point.
After the jump, the analysis and a chart of how the Pens peppered Howard.
The first goal didn't go through until almost 37 minutes into the contest when Evgeni Malkin feed Alex Goligoski who rocketed a hard tape-to-tape to Sidney Crosby. El Sid handled it, deked to his backhand and had an empty net to deposit the puck. With nine minutes left the Red Wings would answer off a point shot from defenseman Brad Stuart that Daniel Cleary deflected past Marc-Andre Fleury.
There'd be no more until the shootout. Kris Letang would be denied by Howard, Pavel Datsyuk missed on Fleury. With Sidney Crosby up, he skated in, made a move, and with a lot of patience slowly pulled the puck backhand and straight upstairs. MAF would stone Jason Williams before Evgeni Malkin skate in slowly and freeze Howard with a slick backhand move.
- Howard, in his introduction to the Pens v. Wings was arguably the best player. His side was out-shot 48 to 28 and he got peppered from every angle and every different type of shot. Take a look at the Pens shot-chart:
- As he always seems to do against Detroit, Jordan Staal stepped up his game. Though he only won a terrible 18% of his 17 faceoffs, Staal fired 4 shots on goal. That doesn't count the 4 shots that missed the net, several on really excellent chances. Staal also had a season high 6 hits, blocked 1 shot, got his nose bloody from a Nicklas Lidstrom high-stick and got 24:36 of icetime.
- Valtteri Filppula (who still has the hardest name to spell in the league) made Sergei Gonchar look absolutely foolish on a deke and forced Sarge to take a penalty. Luckily the Pens killed it off.
- Fleury wasn't the story, if only because the Pens pinned the Red Wings back so much, but he was just as solid and looked confident with that finger. It was a great bounce-back effort and a statement game for the Pens defense as a whole to hold a high powered machine like Detroit (even injury depleted) to a single goal.
- Doesn't it always seem like that about the only goals that Detroit scores against Pittsburgh come on shots from the point?
- Recent callups Nick Johnson and Mark Letestu added some jump to the lineup. Neither were asked to play more than 10 minutes, but their spark (and right-handed shots) seemed to add a new dimension to the team. They definitely didn't stand out in a bad way.
- Crosby was determined, as he usually is in these high profile matchups. He netted the only goal in regulation for the team and took a total of 6 shots. With his shootout goal, Sid improves to 6 for 7 on the season (tied for most overall SO goals in the league and the best percentage for anyone who's attempted more than 3). Crosby's three "game deciding" SO goals ties Anze Kopitar and teammate Letang for first in the league.
- For that matter, props to Fleury on the shootout. He's now 5-0 there (the Pens are 7-0 overall) and MAF has denied 14 of 15 shots he's seen (best percentage, by far, among goalies with 8+ shots seen).
- Malkin's goal instantly reminded me of what blogger Justin Bourne said about becoming a fan all over again: "because Evgeni Malkin is 6-3 and has hands made of some rare concoction of lotion and butter, while the rest of our hands function like a pre-mixed wheelbarrow of sand, gravel and water." Seeing the deke Geno pulled, at finished it at the last possible second, oh my. A true thing of beauty.
The Pens get a four day break, but wait there's another national broadcast* tomorrow against the Buffalo Sabres (*if you consider Versus a nationally televised game). The Sabres currently sit in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference and with Vezina contender Ryan Miller -- or God forbid Patrick Lalime -- sets the talble for a classic "letdown" game. The boys better put this out of conference game in the rearview mirror, even though it surely was a satisfying a deserved win.