For 60 minutes last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins played about the ideal road game. Which they needed in a tough building, against a prime opponent. The Pens were smart, took an early lead and never looked back as they again out-worked, out-shot and came away with a well earned victory against the New York Rangers.
The game started well for Pittsburgh, Chris Kunitz opened the scoring when he drove the net and followed up on a Paul Martin rebound to beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist about three minutes into the game. That would the be all of the scoring until the middle of the second when Carl Hagelin got the Rangers back into the game when he wristed a shot that trickeled past Marc-Andre Fleury for the 1-1 tie.
Then early in the third period, the Rangers pinched in and the puck quickly went the way on a 3 on 1 for Pittsburgh. In the most unlikely of combinations, Matt Cooke collected the puck and streaked up the ice with Deryk Engelland closing in the middle and Richard Park jetting down the other wing. Cooke sent the centering pass to Engelland, who coolly and calmly made a great decision and dished a perfect pass to Park. The vet made no mistakes instantly one-timing it by "The King" to give the Pens the eventual game winning goal.
Enter Malkin time. Evgeni Malkin continued his red-hot streak when he somehow corralled a puck off the wall from Marc Staal, skated right around a diving Michael Del Zotto to the slot and backhanded a beauty of a shot for a 3-1 lead. Malkin's got supreme confidence in his shot right now, and they're all working, especially that backhander. This goal, with 13 minutes left, really seemed to break the Rangers spirits. From here the Pens clamped down defensively and coasted through the rest of the game, with James Neal making a nice (and selfless) chip of the puck to Geno for the empty net exclamation point.
Some more thoughts for the game:
- What's Eric Tangradi thinking being a punching bag for Stu Bickel in the first? At that point the Pens had all the momentum and a 1-0 lead, the Rangers looked sleepy and the Madison Square Garden was largely dead. The fight woke all of them up, and the next shift Hagelin scored the only New York goal. Tangradi wants to make a name for himself and have an impact on the game, and that's great, but he needs to smarten up situationally.
- Almost lost in the Neal/Malkin afterglow is Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pens goal has been a steady revelation this year, continuing to make the big saves at big moments and quietly keep the shift aloft. The defense is at full health, which should help and Fleury has continued to show consistency- something any team needed to keep winning night after night in the NHL.
- 36 shots on goal for the Pens, with 59 attempts (15 blocked by the Rangers, 8 missing target). That's a lot of rubber being directed towards Lundqvist, have to imagine Dan Bylsma is satisfied with the effort and work-rate his team showed from the very beginning of the game.
- Every Penguin, except Orpik, recorded at least a shot on goal. Again, have to imagine that's an emphasized key in the room as well- pucks to the net boys, pucks to the net.
- Earlier in the season we marveled at Kris Letang's conditioning when he was easily piling up 26-27 minutes a night and not even seeming winded. Tonight in his first game back he skated 24:17 (beating Brooks Orpik for the team lead by an easy 2:07), had an assist, was +2, had 3 hits, 3 shots on net and 2 blocked shots. Remarkable. Like he never even missed a beat.
- And not to keep piling on young players, but with Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal out injured, Dustin Jeffrey's getting to skate 2nd line minutes. And he's not doing much with it either. He put 2 shots on net- including a sterling chance all alone from point blank range- and only won 4 out of 14 faceoffs. Simply not enough. It's tough to blame a guy too much coming off a serious knee injury, but in 11 games this season Jeffrey's putting up a Tangradi-ian mark of 0 goals and 0 assists. Chances to prove yourself in the NHL don't always last that long and DJ15 better show some of that scoring touch if he wants to carve a niche in Pittsburgh.
- Malkin's dominance right now is on another plane. He's simply the biggest force in hockey right now and seemingly everything he's touching is turning into a scoring chance, if not a red light and a celebration. Malkin's found killer chemistry with a legit skilled winger in James Neal and the two of them are just carving up and decemating opponents by the night. Top goalies, top defensive matchup, it doesn't matter. Bring your guys and Malkin will deke them and put it in the net.
Leg one of this back to back part of the schedule is complete and well done. In a season of long winning and losing streaks the Pens are back in a groove, winners of four straight. They'll look to make it five tonight when Montreal comes for a visit.