It's been a crazy period for the Pittsburgh Penguins- doubts swirling around Sidney Crosby and the longest losing streak in recent memory had the team in turmoil. And outside of the playoff bubble for the first time this deep in the season since general manager Ray Shero took over in 2006. Throw in captain gate and you've got more drama than a 90210 episode.
Back to hockey, the Penguins came out and laid the wood to the Florida Panthers. The Pens outshot their hosts 41-26, but that is nothing new because Pittsburgh had a shot advantage over their opponent in every game of the now defunct six game losing streak.
The difference was the quality of shots and location- four times Penguins rang shots off posts in the first period, without reward. FInally goalie Scott Clemmensen, who made several great stops, made a blunder behind the net and Matt Cooke collected the puck and moved it to Steve Sullivan who got a gift of a goal.
Then with under a minute to go in the second, Evgeni Malkin streaked down the slot and blasted a short range slapper at Clemmensen. The stop was made and Malkin followed the puck into the corner where he swung the puck back towards the net. It somehow went in, 2-0 Pens.
Just as important as the last minute goal was the first minute goal in the third period when the Pens got a 4 on 2 break when a Panther fell down. Dustin Jeffrey had a great center drive, Pascal Dupuis played the puck to Brooks Orpik who dealt it to Tyler Kennedy who quickly snapped a shot past Clemmensen for a 3-0 edge.
Michal Repik and James Neal exchanged goals late, but by that point the damage was done for a 4-1 win. Pittsbyurgh gets their first win of 2012 and for one day at least, there's harmony in Penguins nation.
Some more thoughts on the game:
- As the Root Sports crew noted, the Pens top line was especially dominant. Malkin, Neal and Kunitz combined for 2 goals, 3 assists, 19 shots on goal and about 4 posts or cross-bars. Florida's defense had no answer for them and seemingly gave them as much space and open ice to operate as desired.
- Gotta feel for Eric Tangradi. The big guy is working, he's driving the net, trying to get as many pucks there as possible, but just can't crack the net and his confidence seems suffering as he visably upset with himself. And even when he tries to start a fight to get involved in the game, he ends up tripping and losing balance before it even starts. At least he didn't crack his head on the ice, right?
- About the only time the Penguins got pinned in their own net, and twice in the second half of the game I noticed this, the defense pairs were Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland. Engo especially had a little problems with his footwork and clearing ability tonight.
- Fun to watch Malkin and Kris Versteeg battle back and forth all night over the puck. They had one hell of an individual duel.
- Brian Campbell showed why he's Florida's all-star rep, he looked great rushing the puck, jumping up in the play and trying to force the tempo. Don't recall him looking so comfortable in a Panthers jersey before.
- Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't get his shutout, thanks to a sick tip (plus jump out of the way) by Repik, but he was huge. It's not easy to not see a lot of rubber and then have to make a stop, especially when it was a 0-0 or 1-0 game for 39 minutes. And if Fleury could have ever ill-afforded to have an off night in the regular season, tonight was it. He was superb on a night when his team really, really needed him to a rock.
A win is a win is a win. Almost looked like they've done it a time or two.