15 games in March. 30 points. 15 wins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins may not have played perfectly every step of the way, but their results have indeed been perfect. This stretch of games shows that the Pens are ready for whatever teams throw at them. Some of our best players are out of the lineup? Other players step up to the plate. You want to out-shoot us? We'll make our fewer goals count. You want to play a goalie duel? Ours will outmatch yours.
Pens have answered every challenge and are firing on all cylinders without some of their top players.
Neither Kris Letang (broken toe) nor Paul Martin (wrist) dressed against the New York Islanders, but the Pens still managed to play tight defense, backed by the supreme play of Tomas Vokoun who dominated to earn his second consecutive shutout.
Unfortunately, the injury situation was about to get worse.
50 seconds into his first shift, Sidney Crosby took a puck to the face, courtesy of a heavy shot from Brooks Orpik. It was the nightmare to end all nightmares. Crosby hit the ice and there was blood everywhere, and upon a closer review, you can see a few teeth (or pieces of teeth) fly out of his mouth. He skated to the dressing room on his own power, but everyone's thoughts went to his concussion past. We waited for any news on Crosby's condition, then Darren Dreger tweeted:
Crosby off to hospital to repair damage after taking puck to the face in 1st period. Dental work likely. #TSN— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 30, 2013
Phew, no sign of a concussion or broken-anything yet. According to postgame comments, the Pens aren't saying anything more other than Crosby lost a few teeth and needed oral surgery. We'll be keeping an eye out for any other news. If a few holes in Crosby's mouth is the worst of it, then that's a huge blessing.
So some guy named Jarome Iginla played his first game as a Penguin. Most of us were pretty shocked to hear the news that he would dress since he didn't arrive in Pittsburgh until late last night. No meetings, no practices, nothing but the desire to play hockey with the best group of players in the NHL. Dan Bylsma certainly wouldn't turn that passion down from that player.
It was a little off-putting seeing him wear the infamous alternates for his debut. Twitter was on it as well, citing the unluckiness the jersey has had in the past. After Crosby's injury, it's safe to say Pens fans were ready for a city-wide alternate jersey bonfire. Coming from someone who has a few pre-game superstitions, I don't believe that a piece of fabric holds any power whatsoever, but I'm totally with the anti-blue jersey crowd. It's not that I don't like how they look, however, I love the idea of having one city's sports teams sticking with one set of colors. Pittsburgh is already defined by black and gold, but I would lose the blue alternates and really own those two colors. On a positive note, we will see those jerseys only one more time this season–this Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Continuing with the game, the loss of Crosby seemed to shake up the Pens a bit. No real flow to their forecheck; they were very much asleep. It was no surprise that by the end of the first period, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis only had one hit between them. They would end the game with three shots. The three previous games saw the two register nine, seven, and nine shots. Huge difference without Crosby.
One player who seemed to up his game despite Crosby's absence was Tanner Glass. He was a forechecking machine and was creating chances in front of the net as opposed to being his usual invisible self. Great game for him.
With less than four minutes in the second, Kunitz and Josh Bailey collided and Bailey totally ate the boards. It was a scary moment and Bailey was slow to get up. Kunitz received a checking from behind major and game misconduct which put the Islanders on a five-minute power play. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the penalty call. It looks to me like Bailey was trying to get body position on Kuntiz and, because Bailey put himself in a vulnerable position, Kunitz won the battle. The issue lies in the fact that Kunitz's shoulders got Bailey between the numbers, textbook "check from behind." Should Kunitz receive supplemental discipline? Absolutely not, but I guess we'll see.
Regardless of our thoughts on the hit, the Pens had to kill a five-minute power play. They did kill the penalty, but a better word would be slaughtered because the Islanders only registered three shots in those five minutes. Not only that, but the Pens were down two men when Orpik was whistled down for a trip. It's the second consecutive game he's been whistled down while the Pens were on a penalty kill to put them down two men, as well. Matt Cooke was on acid for the kill and was one of, if not the, biggest reason the Islanders only had three shots.
That penalty kill dragged into the third period and the Pens did exactly what needed to be done. Consol Energy Center was on its feet after that kill, louder than they were when the Pens killed the four-minute penalty against the Washington Capitals that lead to Matt Niskanen's goal.
How good does the Tomas Vokoun signing look right about now? Absolutely unbelievable back-to-back performances from him. His save of the game came against Michael Grabner who had a breakaway as we were approaching the halfway mark of the third period. Less than a minute later, Cooke capped off one of his best games as a Penguin and netted the first goal. It was sheer perfection to see Cooke rewarded for what he did on the 5-on-3. Seven minutes later, James Neal scored his first goal in 10 games. For all intents and purposes, this game was over.
15 in a row. Almost as impressive as the win streak is Vokoun who set a team shutout record (162:42 minutes) which is also his personal best.
Now, the focus turns to Crosby as we await news on his condition. The Pens are being very careful with their words (can you blame them, seeing what's happened in the past?). I wouldn't assume nothing else is wrong just because it hasn't been reported yet. We can only keep our fingers crossed and hope that Crosby's teeth are the only victims of that puck-to-the-face.
Buffalo on Tuesday. Talk about a game we would love to see Crosby play.