The Pittsburgh Penguins
like to play a certain way -- even when they have arguably the world's best player in the lineup. But when Sidney Crosby
is out, the importance of sticking to Penguins hockey becomes an even bigger priority.
For three games, they appeared to forget that. On Wednesday night, they remembered.
Alex Goligoski scored twice and the Pittsburgh power play woke from a deep slumber with four goals as the Penguins won for the first time this season without Crosby by beating the Montreal Canadiens 5-2.
The Penguins (27-14-4) had scored only three goals in three games since Crosby was shelved with a concussion last Thursday, going 0-2-1 in that span and only 1-for-12 on the power play.
"The difference is we don't have to answer questions about it anymore," Goligoski said of winning without Crosby. "We weren't playing the way we're capable of playing. Whether Sid's in the lineup or he's not, there's a way we want to play. Especially when he's not in the lineup, we have to do it more consistently. That was what we wanted to get back to, and I felt our details were pretty good."
Jordan Staal scored and added a pair of assists for his first points of the season in his sixth game to provide all the offense Marc-Andre Fleury would need. It was Staal's first goal since scoring in Pittsburgh's 5-2 loss to these same Canadiens in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs last spring.
"It's been five games, but it's also been eight months since I got one,|" Staal said. "It's a very nice feeling, and hopefully I keep doing it."
Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz added power-play goals for Pittsburgh while Kris Letang had 3 assists.
At the end of the game, Fleury came to the top of his crease and crossed his arms in a hip hop-style pose, mimicking the one Canadiens goaltender Carey Price did last Thursday in the same building after beating the Penguins 2-1 in a shootout.
"I saw it during the game, and it was fine," said Fleury, who didn't play in that game. "He'd just won, he made all the saves (in the shootout), he played well. Tonight was just for a laugh."
But a few Penguins admitted that Price's celebration didn't sit very well with them -- and gave them an extra boost of motivation in this game.
"I have nothing against it, he was just reacting. He was happy he won the game," Letang said. "But we all saw it. It was maybe a little push in the back to make sure we came back here and put it in his face."
The weary Canadiens (24-17-3) were suffering from an injury situation of their own, with two of their top four defensemen out for the season and sniper Michael Cammalleri missing his second game with the flu. They were also playing for the second time in as many nights -- they ground out a 2-1 win in New York on Tuesday while the Penguins were waiting for them back in Montreal.
The mental fatigue was quite evident as the Canadiens were guilty of six minor penalties, with three by Benoit Pouliot alone and another too many men call coming as a result of him and Jeff Halpern jumping on the ice at the same time.
"That's what decided the game, our inability to stay on the ice," coach Jacques Martin said. "We were ahead 2-1, we took six straight penalties, and they scored four goals."
Martin was not buying the excuse that the penalties were a side effect of a tired team.
"Why should they be mentally fatigued?" he asked. "It happens in this League that you play on back-to-back nights. It's their responsibility to be ready. That's their job."
The four goals on six chances for the Penguins' power play matched the total number of goals with the man advantage in the previous 10 games combined -- and the big night came against the team that entered the game as the NHL's top-ranked penalty-killing club.
Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais accounted for the Canadiens' goals, with Desharnais getting the first of his career.
The game's billing as a matchup of All-Star goalies held true for most of the night -- Fleury was solid in his end with 20 saves, and Price kept his team in the game longer than it probably deserved to be and finished with 31 saves.
Price was forced to make a number of quality stops in the first, most notably on Zbynek Michalek and Kunitz within 30 seconds of each other, and a sparkling glove save on Pascal Dupuis when he came in alone on goal.
But Price could only hold the fort for so long, as Goligoski hammered a perfect one-timer to the top corner at 12:57 for his eighth of the season to put the Penguins ahead 1-0.
It was the sixth straight game the Canadiens have given up the game's opening goal, but the first time they've lost in regulation in that span (4-1-1).
The lead was short-lived, as Plekanec came right back 18 seconds later and converted a set-up from his new linemates Mathieu Darche and Pouliot for his 13th of the season.
The teams exchanged goals again early in the second, with Desharnais tipping home a P.K. Subban shot at 2:15 and Kennedy beating Price with a one-timer on the power play at 4:12.
But the Canadiens' lack of discipline cost them again as they were caught for too many men on the ice, and Staal put Pittsburgh ahead to stay by scoring an unassisted goal with 10.9 seconds left in the period.
It was the seventh time in 17 games the Canadiens have allowed a goal in the final minute of a period.
The Penguins blew it open in the third, again taking advantage of Canadiens penalties to get goals from Goligoski at 2:33 and Letang at 11:29 to make it 5-2.
While getting a small but of revenge on Price felt good, it was more important for the Penguins to learn to live without Crosby because the date for his return is murky at best
But if they play the way they did Wednesday night, his absence should be far less painful.
"Tonight was definitely a nice win, it was a full team effort out there," Staal said. "With or without Sid, we're not going to change our game. We're going to try and grind teams down and play our best hockey."