Co-director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton gives his three impressions from the management booth of the Penguins’ 6-4 win against the Edmonton Oilers.
1. Our bottom six guys played great. They contributed half the goals. They did a good job with some O-zone play down low to grind down the Edmonton defensemen and create some scoring chances and grind out the clock. I thought they were really good.
2. I really liked the way our guys went to the net. (Patric) Hornqvist didn’t get a point on (Sidney) Crosby’s first goal, but he was net-front on the screen. Brandon Sutter drove to the net. Steve Downie drove to the net. Our ability to get to the net was really, really good.
3. Lastly, Brandon Sutter’s overall play. He was 50 percent in the circle, winning key draws, scored a shorthanded goal, scored an even-strength goal. He was second star, deservedly so. He’s a guy our coaches count on to raise their game, particularly in that bottom-6 role and I thought he did so tonight.
Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from the press box.
1. The biggest concern coach Mike Johnston had going into this game was the start. It ended up being one of the few positives – apart from the end result, of course. Tonight was the Pens’ first game back home after a weeklong, four-game road trip – which was followed by two days off the ice (one of those spent traveling) – against an opponent at the bottom of the standings. All of that combined could have been disastrous, but credit to the guys, they went out and did exactly what they said they were going to do from the drop of the puck. They got their legs under them right away, were winning races and battles to loose pucks and put the Oilers back on their heels. As a result, they got out to a 4-0 lead.
2. The coaches and players were not happy with the game at all, and rightfully so. After building that 4-0 lead, they just … stopped playing. The word that both Johnston and Crosby used was “casual.” They let their foot off the gas, as they’ve been prone to do this season. But you know what? Once the Oilers scored their fourth unanswered goal to tie the game, the Penguins could have completely fallen apart. But they didn’t. I was impressed with the way they bore down, got back to their game and ended up getting a big, momentum-shifting goal from Steve Downie.
“I think if there’s anything we can take away from it, we really didn’t get rattled at all,” Crosby said. “As frustrating as it is to see that happen, I didn’t see anyone get rattled or it affect their game. It was tough there for a pretty long stint, but we got back to our game when we needed to. Sometimes you don’t always get rewarded, but we gave ourselves a chance with staying focused.”
3. There were a few individual performances that stood out. Brandon Sutter came to play tonight, as he scored two goals in the first 9:37 of play. Even before he got on the scoresheet, he created a glorious chance by winning the race to a 50-50 puck, pushing it just far enough past the defender that he could get to it first, and went in alone on a breakaway. Sutter was one of the Pens’ best performers during last year’s playoffs, and it looks like he’s starting to peak at the right time for the second year in a row. Another big plus is that he looks to have developed some tremendous chemistry with Daniel Winnik, who assisted on both of his goals, both even-strength and shorthanded. Those two aren’t just linemates; they’ve been playing together on the PK as well and have been dominant there. Aside from his defensive abilities, Sutter’s biggest asset is his speed and Winnik has been doing the work along the boards and against opposing players to get him the puck while the center is going up the ice. In addition, I liked the play of Crosby’s line with David Perron and Patric Hornqvist. They came up with a couple of big goals and produced a number of extended offensive-zone shifts.