The Pittsburgh Penguins finally win.
A decisive 5-1 victory over the Dallas Stars, the re-inserstion of both Kunitz and Neal back in the lineup, you have to think, made a huge difference.
In the first period you could see the team came to play, and Sidney Crosby proved that just over four minutes into the game. The hard forecheck by Craig Adams forced a turnover deep in the Stars’ zone. Adams quickly got the puck to Crosby, where he walked around defenseman Sergi Gonchar and let go a backhander past Stars’ goaltender Kari Lehtonen for the game’s first goal.
However, at the 12:30 mark in the first period, Stars’ forward Tyler Seguin showed why he was a second-overall draft pick, by redirecting teammate Trevor Daley’s shot past Pens’ starting goaltender Jeff Zatkoff – who argued it was touched with a high stick.
The Pens’ top-line wasn’t done yet. Collecting a hard rebound shot by forward Lee Stempniak, Kunitz buried his 32 goal of the season. The first period came to an end, as the Pens took the lead heading into the locker room. The Pens’ outshot the Stars by a small margin, 12-8, and the powerplay was still held scoreless despite the many chances they created.
In the second period the Stars came out with a little more jump and outshot the Penguins 10-9. However, of those 10 shots, the Stars chances were minimal, as the Pens’ defensive zone coverage kept Dallas from gaining speed and quality chances. Pittsburgh’s speed and aggressiveness was relentless against the Stars, and at the 13:21 mark, Crosby’s line cashed in once again.
The Pens made a quick rush up the ice and Crosby rifled a pass cross-ice to Kunitz, who then made a soft saucer pass on the tape of Stempniak driving the net, burying his ninth goal of the season, and his first wearing the Black and Gold. With the score at 3-1, Stempniak’s tally completed the top line trifecta, as all three forwards scored in the game.
To be fair it wasn’t just Crosby’s line though. The third and fourth lines – who’ve struggled to generate anything consistently this season – continued to lay hits on the struggling Stars, and showed a tireless work ethic. And the Malkin line – with the return of Neal – was buzzing like bees around a hive all night. Even though the shots were close by the end of the second, hits, blocked shots, and face-off wins were in the Pens’ favor.
The third period showed that the Pens’ captain, Crosby, wasn’t done yet.
Just 1:56 into the third stanza, Crosby took the puck off of his skate to his stick and slammed it into a yawning cage to make it 4-1. The goal was also his 33rd goal of the season. The Pens’ consistently keeping most of the Stars chances to the outside, began to frustrate the Stars, and with one of the few chances down the middle they had, a Stars player ran into Zatkoff on a shorthanded chance, which set off a minor brawl.
At it’s conclusion, Kunitz earned four minutes for roughing while Brendon Dillon garnered a minor penalty and Cody Eakin got two minutes for goalie interference. This still kept the Pens’ on the powerplay, but once again, coming up empty-handed. While the powerplay continues to come up short, the not-so-underrated penalty kill went to work again, and this time they came up big.
At 12:47, Brandon Sutter took an area pass from the speedy Brian Gibbons, and went in alone shorthanded on Lehtonen. Sutter with his usual shake and bake, forehand-backhand move, beat Lehtonen, but went off the post and it trickled in for the Pens’ fifth goal of the game.
This proved to be more than enough for the Penguins win, as the Stars had no answer for Zatkoff and Pens.
In a period where the Penguins were once again outshot (15-11) they didn’t allow themselves to get beat on a number of quality chances.
Crosby took a maintenance day on Monday, and didn’t participate in practice. Either Crosby was in much need of a day off to refocus and find his game or he has been reading my articles and felt the need to prove a point – little joke.
Whichever it may have been, myself and the rest of the Pens’ fans were happy to see number-87 lead his team Tuesday with the flare and determination we are used to seeing. Crosby had more shots on net in the first period of the game than he did in two games against the Flyers.
Was it the return of number-14 on his wing? Or the fact that the Stars were giving him time and space? The answer is neither.
Crosby came to play tonight – period. The captain was looking like his usual self by controlling the play, forcing d-men onto their heels, stickhandling around players, shooting, and creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. That’s the Sidney Crosby way and the statistics prove it.
When Sid has a point in the game the Pens are 42-5-4. When Crosby fails to get a point in the game the Penguins are 3-14-0.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a team effort tonight, and even though it was a dominant win, there was still room for improvement. Nonetheless, the team did a great job in front of rookie netminder Zatkoff, forcing most of Dallas’ chances to the outside. Zatkoff, when challenged ,stood his ground and made all of his saves look easy and effortless.
The return of Neal also seemed to give Malkin a boost in the arm as well.
The second-line looked hot all night even though they didn’t score. Their puck possession time and relentless hunting of the puck kept the Stars’ frustrated and at bay.
Finally, once again, the penalty killers continuously gave the Pens a chance by blocking shots, forcing the play outside, and taking away passing lanes. They killed every Dallas’ man-advantage – great work boys.
This game was a pleasure to watch. Let’s hope this carries over to Thursday night at Detroit.
Thursday’s game can be seen on the NHL Network, and is set to start at 7:30 p.m.
Can’t wait for the Pens to tackle the post-season? Find your Pittsburgh Penguins playoff tickets at TiqIQ.com
Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins