In a game where there was no Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, or even young protege Olli Maatta, the Pittsburgh Penguins found a way to beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in a shootout Sunday night.
It was total domination by Colorado in the first period of the Penguins’ last road game this season.
The Pens were outshot by the Avs 15-to-8 and lost the majority of the frame’s faceoffs. At 9:47 and at 18:05, Pens’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the team’s penalty-killers had to come up big, by killing off two infractions. The Penguins are missing a few key players from tonight’s lineup, so it looks as though the team strategy is going to be hit hard and play solid defense. As it was shown with the period ending all squared at zero.
The Penguins came out in the second proving that good defense can create offense when the offensive powerhouses are not in the lineup.
The Pens continually forced the Avalanche to turn the puck over, and at 3:46, Pittsburgh forward Brandon Sutter capitalized on one of them. Sutter, picking up the puck from a forced turnover by Tanner Glass, screamed down the right side and blew a low blocker side shot past Avs’ goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Just a few minutes later, the Penguins went on the power-play, when Colorado defenseman Andre Benoit was sent to the box for high-sticking against James Neal.
Once again, Sutter made the Avalanche pay at the 7:08-mark. While on the man-advantage, Neal and Jussi Jokinen played pitch-and-catch for a moment, until Jokinen dished a quick pass to Sutter in the slot. Sutter than made a nifty redirect past Varlamov. The Penguins outshot Colorado in the second 14-to-12, and had an outstanding 11 takeaways.
The third stanza’s action started just 18-seconds in when Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly scored with a quick wrister past Fleury. The Pens’ continued to apply the pressure on their forecheck, which in turn generated quality chances, but could not bury any of them. Then, at 16:47, Avs’ forward Patrick Bordeleau went hard to the net and tipped in a goal through traffic in front of Fleury, knotting the game up at two.
Soon after, Sutter had another chance to complete the hat trick and maybe prevent the game from an overtime frame. But Sutter’s opportunity rang true off of the post behind Varlamov. A few more chances went by the wayside for the Penguins and the Avalanche, as both netminders stood tall sending the game into extras. The shot total for the third was 11-10 in favor of the Avs.
Overtime proved to be a bit of a scary period for the Penguins, as they did not record any shots in the five-minute extra time. At 4:22, Pens’ defenseman Paul Martin whacked a puck out of the air in an attempt to clear the zone, and instead, knocked it out of play, giving himself a delay of game infraction. The rest of the OT-period was a 4-on-3 power-play for the Avalanche.
Their power-play produced a number of chances, but, yet again, “Flower” game up big between the pipes. The 65-minutes of play would not prove to be enough for either team, after Colorado outshot Pittsburgh 41-32 and so the shootout will ensue.
First up in the shootout for Colorado was Tyson Barrie, who shaked n’ baked, but just missed the net wide. Neal was the first shooter for the Pens, and did his usual fake-the shot-shoot-it-five-hole move. Varlamov wasn’t fooled and made the save. Second on the Avs’ list was O’Reilly, who had a goal earlier on in the game. O’Reilly tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat, but Fleury had the answer.
Next up was the shootout wizard himself, Jokinen, who always likes to go wide on his shootout approach. Jokinen did just that, and cut across the goal mouth forcing Varlamov to go down, and as he did, Jokinen held onto the puck until the last second and buried it top shelf. That proved to be the game-winning goal, as Fleury shut down the Avalanche’s captain Gabriel Landeskog on his attempt.
Ultimately, Pittsburgh walked away with the extra point and their 50th win of the season.
The Penguins had a tough match up tonight, and needed to prove that they can play defensive hockey.
What made it so tough was that the usual suspects were out of the lineup, however, it gave young guys that have been called up from Wilkes-Barre Scranton a huge chance to show what they can do when given the big minutes of ice-time. And they did just that.
The majority of the game, with the exception of a few breakdowns – one of which led to the Avs’ first goal – was played with heart by the Penguins. They played a team game, sacrificing the body to block shots, taking the hit to make the play, back-checking hard through the middle, pressuring the puck, and making the most of the opportunities that they created.
It was the style of play you hope to see when all of the big names are out, and it’s the type of game you expect to see when they are present. If the Penguins can play this way, coupled with Fleury’s stellar play, when Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, and others are back in the lineup, it will make them a very tough team to beat in the playoffs.
The question is, was it a fluke? Or can our beloved Penguins prove that they can be consistent down the stretch and into the playoffs?
Only time will tell.
The next game can be seen on NBC Sports Network, as the Penguins take on the Detroit Red Wings at home. Puck drops Wednesday, Apr. 9, at 8 p.m. EST.
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