King Pyrrhus tried to fight the Romans and won the first two battles back in 280 BC, before realizing that his victories cost him so many troops that he couldn’t replace, earning the term we know today as the pyrrhic victory. The Pittsburgh Penguins know something about that, as they skated to a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings tonight, but have lost three players in the past 24 hours. Kris Letang was scratched before the game, bringing the total of healthy 4 top defensemen to exactly 0. To make matters worse, Deryk Engelland launched an elbow at the head of Justin Abdelkader, well after the puck passed, costing him a major penalty and misconduct. Then Evgeni Malkin appeared to dodge an injury in the second period, only to return and then suffer a painful looking left leg injury in the third period.
Well, on the bright side the Pens won, right?
And that was mainly a function of a lethal power play and the strong performance by backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff. In the first period the Pens tacked on two goals, the first by Sidney Crosby and then one by Malkin, to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, after Niklas Kronwall opened the scoring when his screened point shot deflected and eluded Zatkoff.
Rookie Olli Maatta provided a back-breaking goal in the last minute of the second period that saw the Pens kill off a total of 6:30 of short-handed play. Zatkoff and the rest of the PKers played wonderfully to keep the Red Wings off the board, and really limit any dangerous chances too.
The third period was marred early by Malkin’s painful exit, and Crosby capped the scoring for the Pens, taking a Joe Vitale pass and making no mistakes burying the puck by Jonas Gustavsson.
It’s a win, and we’ll see how pyrrhic it may be. Malkin seemed in serious pain, and the going rate for a headshot like Engelland dished out seems to be a two game suspension these days, and it remains to be seen what the issue with Letang is. A few more thoughts on the game:
- Already short-handed by Letang’s absence, the early exit by Engelland doomed the Pens to Matt Niskanen (28:09, 3 blocked shots, 4 shots on goal) and basically four rookies, including Brian Dumoulin who was making his NHL debut. All the young guys were quietly solid and Niskanen really carried the load for the team.
- 28 saves on 29 shots for Zatkoff, who arguably had his finest NHL outing of his career, making some more impressive saves than even his previous shutout win. Zatkoff looked calm, cool and very comfortable in the net, especially early when the Red Wings had 26 shots in the first two periods of the game. Down all those defensemen, the Pens needed a solid performance from the netminder and they definitely got it out of Zatkoff. In his hometown too, no less, so good for him.
- Late in the game a very slick pass from Vitale to Crosby for the "nail in the casket" goal. Vitale’s up to 8 assists on the season, and his in-zone passing has quietly setup a few sweet goals. Not bad.
- Robert Bortuzzo had a game high 6 hits and an interesting night. His hit on a Detroit player also sandwiched Malkin in the second period, then in the third, along the boards, Crosby inadvertently high-sticked his own-teammate in Bort.
- Drew Miller ended up having to serve that high-stick penalty, that the refs incorrectly called, and Miller also accidentally kicked in Crosby’s first goal, and Maatta’s goal went in off of Miller as well. Very tough night at the office.
- Best wishes to Justin Abdelkader, who got hit right in the head late by Engelland and went off woozy. It was late, away from the puck and Engo’s shoulder first made contact with Abdelkader’s head. Textbook of what the NHL is trying to get out of the game. Expect a Shanahan call in 3…2….1…
- We’ll all hold our breath for Malkin too. He couldn’t put any weight on his left leg- it was his right knee that had the ACL injury, we’ll remember- but his spill into the boards looked bad. Takes all the attention off his 1 goal, 2 assist night that saw him ring up career points 599, 600 and 601. Hopefully he feels better very soon too.
Pens are back at in Monday against the Maple Leafs, before getting a few nights off until their next game on Wednesday. Given that this team is quickly approaching walking wounded status, that’ll be most appreciated. Go Pens.
**Be sure to check out our friends at Winging it in Motown for the Detroit perspective and coverage of tonight’s game**