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Aftermath: Penguins 6, Thrashers 3

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
  
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QUICK ANALYSIS
 
The Penguins got a great performance from Marc-Andre Fleury in goal and picked up a much needed win against the Atlanta Thrashers. The Penguins had lost four of its previous five games and needed to get back on the winning track. Fleury made several saves early in the game to keep it scoreless. He also came up big late to make sure the Thrashers never threatened the Pittsburgh victory and showed why he’s one of the best goalie’s in the league.

Pittsburgh took advantage of Atlanta’s last ranked penalty killing unit by notching back-to-back man-advantage goals. The two scores created a mountainous 4-1 lead and the Thrashers were never able to overcome the deficit. Evgeni Malkin played another inspired game with his fourth four-point night of the season on two goals and two assists.
 
WHAT HAPPENED
 
(AP) - Evgeni Malkin, the NHL leader with 53 points, had two goals and two assists, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves in his return to the lineup as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Atlanta Thrashers 6-3 on Thursday night.

The Penguins had lost four of five and were 5-6-2 since Fleury last played on Nov. 15 in a victory over Buffalo. He kept Pittsburgh in it as Atlanta held a 31-20 shots advantage.

Malkin netted his 13th goal in the first period, added his 38th and 39th assist in the second period, and scored into an empty net with 26.2 seconds left. He has 14 points during a seven-game scoring streak.

Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal, Miroslav Satan and Philippe Boucher had the other goals for Pittsburgh. Marty Reasoner, Bryan Little and Colby Armstrong tallied Atlanta's goals.
 
SHOT OF THE NIGHT

Marc-Andre Fleury makes a toe save on Eric Perrin (photo by Getty)
ESSENTIALS
 
What Worked: Power Play
The Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead but Atlanta scored a late first-period goal to make it a 2-1 game. The Penguins used two power-play goals early in the second period to blow the game open. After Pittsburgh nailed back-to-back PP scores and ran out to a 4-1 lead, the team never looked back. The first score was the result of Jordan Staal paying the price in front of the net and getting a deflection goal. The second goal was the result of some great passing that broke Atlanta’s penalty kill box.

What Didn't Work: Turnovers
The Penguins committed a few turnovers, including a few in the defensive zone. One of those turnovers resulted in a goal for Atlanta. Pittsburgh played a little nonchalant and sloppy in the third period and surrendered a lot of scoring chances. It was possibly the result of having a 5-2 lead, but not a habit the Penguins want to pick up. 
 
DIFFERENCE MAKER
 
The Thrashers tried their best to get under Evgeni Malkin’s skin. They gave him a body shot at every opportunity and even got into his face away from the puck. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Malkin’s mental toughness allows him to thrive off of that strategy. When players do that to Malkin, it only makes him more motivated and he plays better. So it’s no surprise that Malkin recorded a four-point night with two goals and two assists.

Malkin made a great athletic play for the first goal when he kicked a rebound to his stick and dumped the puck into the net on his backhand. His first assist came when he blasted a shot from the blue line that was deflected into the goal by Jordan Staal. Malkin made a beautiful move and pass in the neutral zone before setting up Philippe Boucher for a goal. Malkin finished the game with an empty-netter. He led all Penguins in ice time while registering three shots and a plus-3 rating.
 
INTRIGUING NOTABLES
 
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury saw his first game action in over a month. He’s been sidelined after suffering an undisclosed injury Nov. 15 against Buffalo. He was tested early on a slap shot from Ilya Kovalchuk in the high slot. Fleury was nearly 10 feet above his crease when he made the save and smothered the rebound. Fleury made several key saves early to keep Atlanta off the board. In all, he looked sharp and showed no signs of being injured.

The Penguins used a broken stick to net the game’s first goal. Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom broke his stick on a pass attempt from the point. Rob Scuderi alertly one-timed a headman pass to Jordan Staal. Enstrom went to the bench to get a new stick and the Penguins skated through the neutral zone on a three-on-two advantage. Matt Cooke sneaked behind the Atlanta defense and Tim Wallace hit him with a pass that sent him in on goal. Cooke sent a quick shot short side that eluded Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec didn’t square his body to the shooter and looked surprised on the shot. He didn’t get his right pad into proper position to take away the lower part of the net. Cooke used that misplay to his advantage. Wallace’s set up was his first NHL assist and point.

Evgeni Malkin used his great stick-handling skills to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead. He set up the play with a centering pass to a wide open Petr Sykora in the slot. Sykora couldn’t handle the pass and had to settle the puck before shooting. Meanwhile, Malkin drifted to the right of the net along the goal line. Sykora’s shot was deflected right to the region where Malkin was. Pavelec was high, challenging Sykora’s shot and therefore trapped after it was deflected. Atlanta’s Todd White tried to play the puck instead of getting a body on Malkin. The Russian kicked the puck forward to his stick and deposited the puck into the net on his backhand.

The Thrashers got on the board on an odd sequence with less than a minute left in the first period. Brooks Orpik was in front of the Penguins crease when Kovalchuk skated by. The Russian sniper slashed Orpik’s stick, knocking the twig out of Orpik’s hands. Sidney Crosby then checked Marty Reasoner in the slot, propelling the forward into Orpik’s knees. Reasoner appeared to hit Orpik’s knees with his stick. The Penguins defenseman went down awkwardly to the ice and responded by giving Reasoner a few blows while the two were on the ice. Meanwhile, Kovalchuk sent a spinning slap shot towards the net. The puck deflected off Kris Letang’s leg and then off Reasoner and into the net. Then all the players on the ice came together in a group fight. Crosby was throwing some punches into 6-foot-7 Boris Valabik while Letang held the big guy. Crosby and Orpik each received roughing penalties. Chris Thorburn also got a roughing penalty, giving the Thrashers a power play.

Kovalchuk nearly tied the game moments after Atlanta scored. He skated into the Penguins zone on a power play and laid into a wrist shot that snuck under Fleury’s right arm and trickled past the goal post and wide of the net with less than 10 seconds left in the first period.

The Penguins converted against Atlanta’s last ranked penalty killing unit to make it a 3-1 game. Head coach Michel Therrien wanted more presence in front of the net from his power-play units. Staal planted himself atop the crease and screened Pavelec when Malkin ripped the shot towards the goal. The puck deflected off of Staal and into the goal for his 11th of the year.

The Penguins struck again on the power play with some good passing. Jeff Taffe saw action on the second power-play unit. He stationed himself in front of the net with Ron Hainsey on him. Satan was in the high slot. Taffe left the crease and went to the corner. That’s where the Thrashers’ communication seemed to break down. Valabik and Reasoner both closed in on Ruslan Fedotenko, who held the puck, on the near half wall. One of those two players should have peeled off and Atlanta should have rotated its positioning. But Fedotenko sent the puck to Taffe and now both Thrashers were out of position. When Taffe got the puck, Hainsey took a huge gamble by skating to him and pressuring him. If Hainsey had known that the Thrashers didn’t rotate properly, he may have stayed put and tried to eliminate the pass to Satan in the slot. Instead, he jumped toward Taffe, who sent a centering feed to Satan. Valabik was already out of position and couldn’t recover. The only Thrasher left was Eric Perrin, who was playing way too high to pick up Satan. Thus, Satan was one-on-one with Pavelec. Satan made a quick move to the backhand and scored his 12th goal of the season.

The Thrashers cut into the lead when Bryan Little scored from the slot on a power play. Kozlov had the puck in the far circle when Orpik jumped to block a shot. Kozlov instead fed the puck to White along the goal line. Rob Scuderi was in front of the net. Both Scuderi and Orpik tried to get their sticks in the passing lane. Scuderi took away the cross-crease backdoor pass while Orpik tried to take away the slot. White found enough room to squeeze the puck to Little, who scored his 12th goal of the year.

The Penguins answered Atlanta’s second goal with their fifth goal of the game only 32 seconds later. Malkin started the play with a nifty backhand pass in the neutral zone. He then re-collected the puck and gained the Atlanta blue line as three Thrashers back pedaled. Malkin then dished to Philippe Boucher, who slapped the puck into the net from atop the near circle. The shot was re-directed off of the stick of Valabik and through Pavelec’s five-hole. At that point former Penguin Johan Hedberg replaced Pavelec.

Fleury made a great sprawling save on Perrin. The Thrashers had a two-on-one with Scuderi dropping back. Perrin tried to dish the puck but it deflected off of Scuderi’s stick and towards the net. Fleury started sliding to his right in anticipation of the pass when the puck deflected to his left. Fleury reached back with his leg and got a toe on the puck. Perrin got his own rebound but Fleury flopped his body towards the puck and got a glove on the second shot. Those are the types of saves that Fleury makes that the Penguins have really missed. Even when he’s not in position, Fleury can still make a save with his athletic ability and agility.

Malkin had absorbed shots all game. Finally he had enough and threw a punch at Jason Williams in frustration. Therrien put Eric Godard on Malkin’s line with Sykora on the next shift. Godard, knowing his role, tried to bait Valabik into a fight. Valabik backed away. Therrien put Godard on the ice not only to protect Malkin but to send a message that Pittsburgh won’t tolerate shots on its players.

Therrien used defenseman Letang at forward on penalty kill situations. The Penguins coach was using three defenseman and one forward with Letang playing at the top of the box. It may have been done because Pascal Dupuis left the game with an undisclosed injury.

Satan skated through the entire Thrashers lineup and sent a shot onto the goal that went off of the goal post in the third period. Satan hasn’t had much free ice this season to showcase his great stick-handling ability but he put on a display on that sequence in the third period, as well as on his goal.

Colby Armstrong got a goal against his former squad. Satan had the puck inside the Penguins blue line and tried to pass back to his defenseman. Armstrong intercepted the pass and unleashed a slap shot from the slot that blew by Fleury.

Malkin sealed the game with his second goal of the game, this one shot into an empty net with 26.2 second left. The Thrashers hit the post and nearly made it a one-goal game in the final minute. Later, Scuderi blocked a centering attempt and Malkin picked up the loose puck. He sent it forward to Crosby, who blew by Enstrom in the neutral zone. Hainsey cut off Crosby with Enstrom in pursuit. Crosby pulled up and, with both Thrashers defensemen on him, sent a pass over to a wide-open Malkin. Malkin eased the puck into the net for the score.
 
GAME NOTES
 
> Pittsburgh improved to 17-10-4 on the year, with a 9-6-2 mark on the road. Pittsburgh is 12-6-2 in its last 20 games.

> Matt Cooke got Pittsburgh on the board first with his fourth goal of the year at 5:32 of the first period. Evgeni Malkin notched his 13th goal of the season at 9:40 to give the Penguins a 2-0 advantage. The Thrashers got on the board with Marty Reasoner’s sixth goal with 38 seconds left in the opening frame. The Penguins netted two power-play goals to take a 4-1 lead. Jordan Staal re-directed a Malkin shot for his 11th goal of the season from in front of the net. Miroslav Satan then netted his 12th at 5:54 on the power play. Bryan Little cut the advantage to 4-2 with his 12th of the season. Philippe Boucher gave Pittsburgh a 5-2 lead at 8:04 of the second period. Colby Armstrong buried his seventh goal of the season on a slap shot at 14:55 of the third period. Malkin recorded his second goal of the game and fourth point of the night with an empty-net score with 26.2 seconds left.

> Pittsburgh was outshot by the Thrashers, 31-20. Pittsburgh has only been outshot seven times in its past 20 games.

> Evgeni Malkin recorded two goals and two assists for his fourth four-point game of the season against the Thrashers to increase his NHL lead with 53 points (14G-39A). Malkin’s 39 assists are also a league best. Malkin is on pace for a 100-assist season (103). Only three players in NHL history have recorded 100-assist seasons (Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzkey and Bobby Orr). Malkin has seven goals and 15 assists for 22 points in his last 11 games.

> Malkin is currently riding a seven-game point streak. Over that span, he has accumulated four goals and 10 assists for 14 points.

> Sidney Crosby had two assists against the Thrashers. Crosby has seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points in his last 13 games. Crosby climbed the rankings and is now second in the league in scoring with 46 points (13G-33A). His 33 assists are second most in the league, behind only teammate Malkin’s 39.

> The Penguins have the top two scorers in the NHL in Malkin (14+39=53) and Crosby (13+33=46). The last time Pittsburgh had the top two scorers in the league was the 1995-96 season when Mario Lemieux (first) and Jaromir Jagr (second) topped the NHL. The team also had that distinction when Lemieux (first) and Kevin Stevens (second) did it in 1991-92.

> Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves to earn his ninth win this season in his first game in over a month. Fleury is 5-0-0 in his last six starts in goal.

> Ruslan Fedotenko notched an assist against the Thrashers to continue his season-long five-game point streak. Fedotenko has compiled three goals and four assists for seven points over that stretch.

> Staal nailed his 11th goal of the season on the power play and added an assist for a two-point night. He has five points (2G-3A) in the last three games. Staal has seven points (3G-4A) in his last six games.

> Satan scored his 12th goal of the season and second goal in three games. In his last three games, Satan has two goals and two assists for four points.

> Cooke notched his fourth goal of the season. In his last four games, he’s recorded four points (2G-2A).

> Boucher nailed his second goal of the season, both in the past three games.

> Petr Sykora notched two assists against the Thrashers. He now has 12 points in his last seven games (5G-7A). In his past three games, Sykora has five assists.

> Tim Wallace notched his first NHL point with an assist on Cooke’s goal.

> Rob Scuderi notched his third assist in his last three games.
 
THREE STARS QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
   
1. Evgeni Malkin, PIT
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT
3. Jordan Staal, PIT
"It was good to get a couple shots early in the game to
get used to the speed of the game. After that I was OK."
- Marc-Andre Fleury told FSN Pittsburgh
 

 

Author: Sam Kasan

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