Back-and-forth. That’s how you describe the tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens last night.
Defeated 6-5 in a shootout sequence, the Pens lost the rubber match with the Canadiens, and are currently riding a two-game losing streak – something that’s only happened, now, four times throughout the season so far.
Jumping out to a 2-1 lead after the first period, courtesy of a James Neal-wrister and a Deryk Engelland-snapper, Pittsburgh would go on to relinquish that lead, and surrender a goal to Habs’ forward Daniel Briere in the second period. Regaining the advantage off a slap-shot from Olli Maatta on the power play, Habs’ forward Max Pacioretty answered with one of his own 57-seconds later.
Commencing the third period all-squared at three, center Brandon Sutter registered a shorthanded goal, after Habs’ defenseman P.K. Subban languidly lost the puck near center-ice. However, once again, the Habs’ saw the Pens’ tally and equaled them with a snap-shot from Alexei Emelin, that got through a heavily screened Marc-Andre Fleury, 24-seconds following Sutter’s goal.
Given a man-advantage opportunity, the Pens’ retook the lead thanks to captain Sidney Crosby, who was able to corral the rebound off Habs’ goaltender Peter Budaj, and bury the biscuit with 49-seconds left on the power play. As the seesaw battle continued to take full effect, Briere potted his second goal of the game on a power play of their own, and the score would sit at 5-5 going into overtime.
With both teams shutout in the extra five-minute period, they went into a shootout. Neither Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Neal could put it past Budaj, and the Pens’ lost due to a forehand-backhand-forehand goal by Habs’ forward David Desharnais. With the victory, the Canadiens ended a five-game losing streak in Pittsburgh, dating back to the 2010-11 campaign.
For Fleury, he certainly looked rusty.
While I won’t discredit Montreal entirely, because they scored a few of their tallies by building traffic in front of Fleury, he did let in a few tough ones. Fleury saw 29 shots come his way, and he only turned away 24 of them. Now amidst a two-game losing streak, both in the shootout, it’s important for Fleury to find his groove soon, given the fact the playoffs are right around the corner.
The one player that really impressed me was Sutter.
Only contributing one assist over his previous seven contests before last night, Sutter provided much needed secondary scoring by potting two points (1G, 1A). Hopefully, this is a sign Sutter will start to generate more offense, because Pittsburgh’ needs him to produce if they want to be a serious contender. Plenty of time to make adjustments, but Sutter has gotten off on the right foot.
Neal not only scored, but he added an assist, and Malkin, his partner-in-crime, collected two helpers. Since they each appeared on the scoresheet, that gives both of them a six-game point-streak, dating back to Jan. 27. It’s satisfying to see that both of them, and the whole second-line for that matter, has picked up where they left off.
Overall, I just felt like Pittsburgh had an uneven mix of tired and rested players. Once they get back into playing more games together, the results will start to go in their favor.
Other notes to pass along, Crosby collected his 79th and 80th points last night. Topping the NHL in scoring, Crosby is leading the Art Ross Trophy race by 13 points to both Toronto’ forward Phil Kessel and Anaheim’ forward Ryan Getzlaf.
Next up for Pittsburgh will be the outdoor game in Chicago – which figures to be a heavyweight bout.
The game can be seen on NBC, and is set to start at 8 p.m.