The Pittsburgh Penguins kept things rolling at home with their 11th straight win on Consol ice with a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers. The Pens formula was basically the same one they've used all season- score first (they're 22-2-0 this year when doing so), kill penalties with their #2 ranked PK unit (which went 3/3 tonight) and use their top-ranked power play in the league with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz to score.
Check, check and check. Throw in Marc-Andre Fleury having another stellar performance with 33 saves on 35 shots (.943 save percentage) to improve to an absurd 29-3-0 in his last 32 homes games and Pittsburgh rolled.
Kunitz got the game's first goal when Crosby made an unreal kick pass/deflection off of Matt Niskanen 's point shot to beat Henrik Lundqvist and put the Pens up 1-0. Then, soon after Brian Gibbons hooked up with Jussi Jokinen for Gibbons' first point in eight games and Jokinen's first goal in eleven to make it 2-0. Early in the second, the two would again combine to make it 3-0.
Then late in the 2nd period Kunitz made a great play to hammer a Ranger along the boards, keeping the puck in the zone, and then collect a loose puck and find Crosby. Sid threw a great backhand that beat Lundqvist high to make it 4-0.
The game was basically over at that point, but the Rangers made it interesting by scoring two goals in the 3rd to make it a 4-2 score with just over 8 minutes left to go. Luckily for the Pens, the Kunitz - Crosby- James Neal line came out strong and had a solid shift- with Sid proving too much for defenseman Anton Stralman in a battle for the puck that eventually made it to Kunitz for a slam dunk goal to cap the scoring.
A few more thoughts on the game:
- Really rough night for Stralman and Marc Staal, who were on the ice for four goals against (including one when the Pens were on the PP). Staal was sliding all over the ice and didn't look as good as he normally does.
- Nice to see some chemistry developed by the "2nd" line of Gibbons, Jokinen and Brandon Sutter. They may not be together for too much longer with the return of Evgeni Malkin seeming near, but it's always nice to get some production from more than just the Crosby line.
- As pointed out by @pensbender from Pens Nation - the Rangers may have out-shot the Pens 35-28, but check out this chart as to where the shots came from. Pittsburgh got many more from the dangerous, in tight areas below the faceoff circles and in front of the net, Not coincidentally, that's where all their goals came from. Most of the NYR shots came from beyond the top of the circles in less dangerous areas.
- Taylor Pyatt looked OK in his Penguins debut. He showcased one nice move to the net, using his big body to protect the puck, and on a two of shifts his cycling efforts generated good chances that ended up on the stick of Craig Adams. Adams couldn't convert, but maybe when the Pens injuries cycle through and if Pyatt gets to play with better offensive players that could be real 3rd liners (like Sutter, Jayson Megna and/or Beau Bennett) maybe the puck ends up in the net.
- Pyatt also took a cross-checking penalty in the offensive zone late in the 2nd period, not a good way to get into a coach's good graces but Pyatt actually got more ice-time in the 3rd period (4:10) then he got in either the 1st or 2nd periods, so it wasn't like he was punished by sitting on the bench...This time.
- Eye-popping stat: Joe Vitale won 10 out of 11 faceoffs (91%), the rest of the team only won 23 out of 56 (41.1%). Crosby was OK going 50% on 24 total draws on the night, but the usually reliable Sutter only won 4 out of 18 faceoffs.
- Guess what Penguin led the team in hits? It wasn't Brooks Orpik (3) or Tanner Glass (3)...It was Simon Despres with 5. Despres also got into several little pushing matches after the whistle to keep opponents away from his goalie. After sitting last game as a healthy scratch, Despres definitely showed a nastier edge that he hasn't much displayed in the NHL. Despres' head-manning of a puck also led to a Pens goal that wouldn't have happened without his initial action. It won't show up on the scoresheet, but I'm guessing it won't elude coaches and management either.
- Per Pens PR, the team hasn't even been TRAILING in a game at home in 437:19, a stretch dating back to November 27th against Toronto. Just an unreal stretch for the team right now at home. But, unfortunately after hosting Winnipeg for an afternoon game on Sunday, they take a Western Canadian road-trip for the next three games.
And that is that. The win puts the Pens up to the top of the heap in the Eastern Conference and extends their already sizable lead on the rest of the Metropolitan division. A great effort tonight from Fleury, Crosby, Kunitz, Gibbons and Jokinen and the team will roll on. Hopefully if Malkin and Kris Letang can return to the lineup soon, they should be getting even better.