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Endgame: Penguins 3, Oilers 2

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

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Coaches in the NHL always say that at the end of the day, your best players have to be your best players. And the Penguins’ stars were just that on Tuesday night against the visiting Oilers at CONSOL Energy Center.

The Penguins’ second and third lines were shuffled heading into the game due to injury, but the first line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis remained intact. And they stepped up with two big goals, one from Dupuis in the first and the other from Kunitz in the second.

Then, with the score tied 2-2 in the third period, Evgeni Malkin triumphantly slammed home a power-play goal to give the Penguins a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win improves them to a perfect 4-0 at home for the first time since beginning the 1994-95 season with a 7-0 record.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves to give him wins in all five of his starts. Crosby finished with three assists, giving him points in each of the first six games of the season. This marks his longest point streak to begin a season since he had a six-game point streak Oct. 5-15, 2005 during his first two weeks as an NHL player.

Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis have been playing together for a number of seasons now, and their comfort and familiarity with each other was more apparent than ever in this game. The three of them operated with such precision on breakouts, entries and in the offensive zone. And the way they read off each other, especially in the slot and behind the net, is just so impressive.

Their second goal of the evening came on an entry, with Crosby sliding a pass over to Dupuis and driving to the net. The captain got a piece of Dupuis’ shot on the way there, causing it to change direction on LaBarbera and trickle under him. Crosby and Kunitz both attacked the loose puck in the crease.

At first it looked like Crosby was the one who touched it last before it went over the goal line with a backhanded sweep, but a number of different camera angles showed that Kunitz, driving in a straight line to the net and hitting it with his forehand, was the one who actually forced it over, and he was credited with the goal.

On the bench immediately after the play, it looked like even they weren’t sure who had touched the puck last, as they both looked up at the replays on the video board while talking and laughing. At one point, they were even examining their stick blades to see who had the mark from the puck on their tape.

“Any time you have success it makes you smile so it was fun to joke about it,” Kunitz said. “I don’t think we really care who ends up scoring and who gets credit for it.”

He says that now, but Crosby joked after the game that they may need to take another look at both their blades and the replays.

“Yeah, I think it rode up my stick there, I don’t know,” he laughed. “We will have to look at the replay. It happened pretty quick so I’ll have to look at my stick and see if there is a mark or a chip out of it. We will talk about that later.”

Pittsburgh’s power play exploded in their last game prior to tonight, going 3-for-5 in their 5-4 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday. And it was clutch again against the Oilers, scoring the winning goal 7:20 minutes into the third period on their third man-advantage opportunity of the night.

The Pens were using two defensemen to adopt a more defensive posture with the score tied, with Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin on the points. Kunitz, Crosby and Malkin were the forwards. Martin misfired on a shot from the blue line, but it ended up working out perfectly as the puck went right to Malkin at the side of the net. LaBarbera had been anticipating Martin’s shot, so he wasn’t able to recover in time to save Malkin’s blast.

The Pens also rebounded from a tough weekend penalty killing on the road tothwart all three of the Oilers’ chances, including one after Pittsburgh had taken the lead on Malkin’s goal. The Pens are now perfect on the penalty kill in 11 straight regular-season home games dating back to March 26 of last season. Credit to Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Brandon Sutter and Craig Adams for tremendous shorthanded efforts.

With James Neal missing his fifth straight game with an upper-body injury and Beau Bennett sitting out tonight’s contest with a lower-body injury, the Pens were forced to shuffle their second and third lines.

Chuck Kobasew moved up into Bennett’s spot on the right wing next to Jussi Jokinen and Malkin. The team recalled Harry Zolnierczyk from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to play in Kobasew’s now vacant spot on Brandon Sutter and Dustin Jeffrey’s line. Zolnierczyk played 11:21 minutes in his Penguins debut, throwing a team-high (tied) four hits.

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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