Pens rolled into Nashville with many question marks following two back-to-back disappointments. The team didn't practice yesterday and instead spent time in meetings, seemingly to address the problems stemming from the many defensive miscues that cost them in the past couple of days. To make things more interesting, they were about to face the last team in the NHL that stood undefeated in regulation, as well as meet an old friend James Neal on his very own bobblehead night.
Marc-Andre Fleury was back in goal after a night off on Thursday and he was tested in the first couple of minutes, but made the saves that set the tone for the rest of the game. From there on, the Pens largely carried the play for the remainder of the first period. The only goal of the frame came from the top line. Patric Hornqvist took the puck on his own blue line, made a nice pass off the boards to Crosby, who steamrolled down the left-wing side, aimed a centering pass at Kunitz coming down the right side. The pass went past him but Maatta kept the puck near the net, Sid went behind it and shoved it past Rinne. The 1-0 lead would stand for the period, which was played entirely at even strength.
In the second period the Pens dominated possession and shots on goal. We had one uneventful power-play, and immediately after went on the penalty kill after Downie took an offensive zone penalty. Pens had no trouble killing it off, though. At even strength the Preds clogged the neutral zone all night, which impeded zone entries somewhat, but short passes and regrouping when necessary, with forwards coming back to help was just the thing.
The third period was when the things got interesting, and not in a bad way that tends to be the case sometimes. Pens kept pressing, Fleury was taking care of the few pucks that came his way, and then Patric Hornqvist did a nice job selling what should have been his own interference on Olli Jokinen, and the first unit went to work on a proper power play. Fleury started things with a long pass up ice, Sid made a gorgeous setup for Malkin, who was standing to the left of the net and had no trouble redirecting it behind Rinne. 2-0 Pens and Flower gets an assist. He won't rest until he gets a goal, though.
Next up, James Neal went off for hooking and Pascal Dupuis cashed in on the ensuing PP to make it 3-0. The only thing left was to see how the Pens would close this game out, and they worked hard for the W. The Preds kept pressing and creating some chances, including a Neal shot off the post that rebounded behind Fleury and luckily went the other way. As the saying goes, you have to be good to be lucky, and the Pens were good tonight. They put in a lot of hard work on the boards and in the corners, digging the pucks out and retrieving them tirelessly. Take away the two penalties for too many men on the ice, and it was pretty much a clinic on road hockey. They allowed only 25 shots on goal, blocked 17 shots, and played a tight gap control kind of game. Of course, it's not as much fun as Globetrotter hockey but Rob Scuderi approves.
Marc-Andre Fleury had the 29th shutout of his career. Sidney Crosby recorded his 87th assist on a Malkin goal. Pascal Dupuis scored his 400th NHL point. Crosby had a goal and two assists, and Malkin now has a point in all 7 games this season, scoring his third goal. The Pens finish the week 1-1-1, but most importantly end it on a high note.