With a shot off the crossbar just 16 seconds into the game, you could tell Jussi Jokinen was fired up to play his former team. At this point, we can expect big things not only against the Carolina Hurricanes (he's averaging 2 points-per-game average against them since joining the Pens), but in general.
Jokinen has 10 goals in 13 regular season games with the Pens. Let that stew for a second and realize that we aren't talking about Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. However, the beautiful chemistry that has blossomed between Jokinen and Malkin is a sure factor in Jokinen's prowess on offense. Don't forget Jokinen's hat trick against the Blue Jackets on Sept. 21 came when he was "first" placed on Malkin's line.
As much as I want to see Beau Bennett get top six playing time regularly, there's no chance Jokinen drops to a bottom six spot the way he's playing. Bennett is certainly taking advantage of the time he's spending with Malkin and Jokinen. Brilliant passing plays, good decision-making, and it all stems from his natural vision of the ice. The sky's the limit for Bennett but James Neal's return will force him to the third line...until Bylsma shuffles his players like he always does.
Jokinen's two power play goals also turned the Pens' 0% conversion rate to 33.3%. However, it'll be nice to see Neal slamming one-timers home from Malkin feeds.
Fellow countryman Olli Maatta also had a big night, not only registering his first career NHL point, but also his first multi-point game. He assisted on two of Jokinen's goals, and has taken another giant leap towards sealing his spot on the team. There has been a lot of talk whether Maatta is ready for the NHL or if he should be sent back to the London Knights. His performance tonight proved he is certainly capable of playing with the big boys, so hopefully the Shero finds a way to work this out.
Other than Maatta's two assists, his shining moment came in the third period in what was one of the most incredible shifts I've seen in a long time. Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo, the bottom two pairing, were on the ice with Crosby's line and the five of them just abused the Hurricanes for an entire shift. No goals resulted in that shift (though Tanner Glass whipped out a Crosby-like backhand to put the Pens up by two in the following shift), but it was great seeing what great support those two young defensemen provided for arguably the best line in the NHL. The entire shift felt like a scoring opportunity that had the fans on their seats when Cam Ward finally froze the puck. Maatta also had some beautiful heads-up passes, one in the third period found Bennett who was speeding through the neutral zone, collected the puck in stride while splitting the defense, and got a shot off that was brushed off by Ward.
The Maatta - Bortuzzo pairing will be a fun one to watch develop, and I'm most looking forward to seeing Maatta's shot on the power play. You can feel a goal coming for him, especially after "the shift". And so far, neither have been on the ice for a goal against.
Marc-Andre Fleury had another solid game and is really hushing his critics right now. It's amazing seeing how much has changed just from the preseason to now. There's a coolness to Fleury's movements and reactions when before, there seemed to be a hint of panic anytime he had to make a play. Could be many reasons for that including the lack of speaking to the media to better team defense that is an immense pressure relief. Ultimately, Fleury is making the saves when he needs to. Now we all know Fleury does just fine in the regular season, so Fleury's ability to maintain that in the postseason is where the questions lie. But so far so good.
In the first period, everyone thought Pascal Dupuis had his first of the season but it was disallowed because of a kicking motion. If you talk to the right Pens fans, many will admit when a call should be disallowed, but this one didn't look like there was enough evidence to overturn the goal called on the ice.
However, there was a better view of the kicking motion on Carolina's feed:
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Did the puck hit Ward's leg/pad on the way in? Who knows. Luckily it doesn't matter.
Looking at the less obvious, Brandon Sutter has quietly excelled in his first three games. Three assists on the season, including one tonight, but his defensive play is most impressive. Many of his plays go unnoticed because of his stealthy execution. And Joe Vitale deserves a shoutout for completely owning in faceoffs. 64% overall on the season and he's won 67% of the faceoffs he's taken shorthanded. His tenacity is something I admire which is why we see him drawing penalties like he did today.
Lastly, how about the fourth line? Glass, Vitale, and Craig Adams as a line have three goals on the season. Last season, they had six goals total. Talk about secondary scoring.
Overall, Carolina had its moments of brilliance, but they were brief and overshadowed by the Finn show that just went down on Fifth Avenue.
The Pens are now going on the road to Florida were we will probably see Jeff Zatkoff between the pipes at some point.