The Penguins capped off a busy Wednesday by beating the Washington Capitals, 4-3, in the final regular season meeting between the division rivals.
Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter potted the goals and Evgeni Malkin nailed on three assists for the Pens, who until Wednesday had been held to one goal in three contests by Washington goaltender Braden Holtby.
John Carlson, Troy Brouwer and Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals, who fell three points behind the Penguins in the Metropolitan after suffering the regulation loss.
Pittsburgh has been searching throughout the month of February, but three straight wins have seen the Pens begin to turn the page on some previously troubling trends.
- Until last weekend, the power play hadn't scored all month. Despite an uneven overall performance in Washington, the unit added one more, making it PP goals in three straight.
- The Pens' star centers had come under some criticism for failing to produce points at their highest level. Crosby and Malkin combined for a goal and three assists in Washington, and both are within a handful of points of the NHL scoring lead.
- Total goal scoring had been down all month, but the Pens have scored 13 in their last three games, all wins. Two of those three opponents are currently playoff-seeded teams in Washington and St. Louis. Florida, while outside the picture, is within a handful of points of Boston.
- Toughness has been a bit of a thing. The Pens couldn't hang with the Capitals physically in a loss last week and came unraveled while trying to muscle up. An early brawl and other first periods chippiness didn't hamper the Pens in this one.
- Pittsburgh hasn't won a regulation game over a playoff-seeded divisional opponent since the second week of the season, and none of any kind since December. Their win over the Caps was just their third in 12 games against Washington and the New York teams, but better late than never.
So the wins have been promising, and none of the cheap variety. Having a healthy lineup for the first time in ages has more than a little to do with it. The new line combinations in the top six seem to be working. The power play, if not fixed, has life.
Couple that with the return of Christian Ehrhoff to the lineup, the dismissal of Zach Sill and an earlier trade that adds Daniel Winnik to the Pens lineup and suddenly this team is only a Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta short of completion.
Those two aren't due back this year, so the Pens will be about as whole as they can possibly be when Winnik lands stateside.
GM Jim Rutherford has worked to build a deeper roster since last offseason. Until this month, the Pens had only a few blessed weeks last fall to see what that roster might look like.
That roster is coming together once again, and after some early hiccups, things seem to be coming together nicely.
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