Pittsburgh Penguins Shuffle Lines, Top St. Louis Blues 4-2


After losing three straight games to tough opponents over the last week, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fate seemed sealed before they stepped into St. Louis’ Scottrade Centre tonight.

A win seemed to be even more unattainable when it was announced backup netminder Thomas Greiss would be taking on the dominant Blues.

Just when it seemed they could drop no lower, however, Greiss and the Penguins pulled through and rang out a strong 4-2 victory that wasn’t even as close as the score suggests.

Following the Pens’ recent loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, head coach Mike Johnston elected to shuffle his lines heading into tonight’s game – moving Chris Kunitz from his longtime position as Sidney Crosby‘s winger and placing him on the second line alongside Evgeni Malkin and Blake Comeau.

Taking his place on the first line alongside Crosby and David Perron was Patric Hornqvist.

The shake-up seemed to work wonders as both lines performed excellently all night.

Blake Comeau – who is quickly becoming the savviest pick-up by General Manager Jim Rutherford – opened the scoring near the end of the first period, collecting an errant pass by the Blues and wiring a backhand shot into the top of the cage.

After a fairly even, wide-open first period, the Pens took the attack to St. Louis in the second, outshooting the Blues 10-5 and doing what had recently become the unthinkable – scoring a powerplay goal.

With young Blues phenom Vladimir Tarasenko in the box, the Pens set up on the man-advantage with Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, Kunitz and Letang on the ice – reuniting the Pens’ two superstar centers after splitting them up into separate powerplay units last week.

The smooth-skating Letang took the puck and powered down the left boards before slipping the puck behind the net to Crosby.

As Hornqvist floated unnoticed into the slot, Crosby dished the puck to the burly Swede. Hornqvist made no mistake, connecting on the one-timer and firing the shot right by Brian Elliott to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

Ten minutes later, the Pens’ second line scored their second marker of the game.

Comeau once again collected an errant pass from the Blues and pressed into the zone, working a cycle with Kunitz and Malkin.

With the puck moving back to the point from Geno to Simon Despres, Comeau dropped into the slot.

Despres wound up and put the puck on net as Comeau tipped it by the Blues defenders and netminder for his 14th tally of the season.

Pittsburgh’s powerplay continued to roll in the second period as the second unit got on the board as well.

Coach Johnston sent out Brandon Sutter alongside Comeau, Perron, Paul Martin and Derrick Pouliot.

Sutter, Comeau, and Perron played catch as they entered the zone. The quick passing resulted in the puck on Sutter’s stick in front of the Blues’ net. Without hesitation, he roofed it off his backhand to give the Pens a dominating 4-0 lead.

St. Louis fought back over the latter half of the final period, netting two goals in the last five minutes from Dmitrij Jaskin and Ian Cole, but their comeback effort was not to be.

The Pens walked away with two points and a decisive 4-2 victory, taking their record to 33-17-9.

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While it was just one game, the Pens certainly seemed to solve a lot of their problems all at once in this one.

Unable to beat a tough opponent? They may not be in the Metropolitan division, but teams don’t come much tougher than the Blues – who have been tabbed by many as the best in the league this season.

Powerplay coming up short? The Pens netted two man-advantage goals tonight (which turned out to be the difference between winning and perhaps losing in overtime as St. Louis nearly mounted a comeback with their late momentum). Pittsburgh even managed to get goals from both their first and second units.

Brandon Sutter not playing his best hockey? The third line centreman tallied a powerplay goal, blocked a shot, went 53% in the faceoff circle, and helped successfully kill off the Blues’ only powerplay tonight.

Thomas Greiss looking like an offseason mistake? He almost shut out one of the best teams in the league tonight, allowing two late goals after the game seemed already decided. Regardless, he allowed the Pens to record a victory against a tough opponent while star netminder Marc-Andre Fleury rested up for the tough games ahead.

One game won’t prove anything – the true test will be whether or not the Pens can sustain the level of play they showed tonight – but fans and the organization alike can surely breathe a sigh of relief after seeing the Pens look as sharp as they did.

Perhaps the lineup shuffle was just what the team needed to find their game once again.

With the impending return of veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, and the possibility of some quality deadline additions courtesy of GM Rutherford, Pittsburgh could be primed for a strong late-season run heading into the playoffs.

They’ll get a chance to continue that run tomorrow night when they take on the Florida Panthers.