The players in the Penguins’ locker room may tell you differently, but playing at CONSOL Energy Center must clearly have its advantages.
Pittsburgh used two goals in each of the first two periods to down the Calgary Flames, 4-3, on Saturday afternoon and extend the streak since they last trailed at home to 377 minutes and 19 seconds dating all the way back to Nov. 27 against Toronto.
Captain Sidney Crosby had points on three of the four Pittsburgh goals and the top line of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis continued to lead the way for the Penguins. Dupuis, Harry Zolnierczyk, Crosby and Matt Niskanen tallied for the Penguins.
“I thing timely goals, getting a lot of good starts which helps,” Crosby said when asked on the key to the 10-game home winning streak. “We are just playing with a lot of energy. Just keeping it simple and playing to our strengths, got a lot of speed in the lineup and trying to take the load off our of defense a little bit. I think our energy has been pretty good considering how many games we’ve been playing and how depleted our lineup is.”
Forwards Paul Byron, Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler scored goals for Calgary.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves, but the goalpost may have made the most important save late in the third period to preserve the 4-3 lead. Flames center Joe Colborne came out from behind the net and made a power move that beat Fleury on the far side, but the puck caromed off the post and slid back through the crease. A thankful Fleury was sure to give the post many thanks after the whistle was blown, patting it gently a handful of times with his glove.
The Penguins now embark on a four-game road trip to Ottawa (12/23), Carolina (12/27), Columbus (12/29) and New Jersey (12/31) before returning home on Jan. 3 to play the New York Rangers.
FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS
The Penguins came out firing in the first period, dominating play despite only recording five shots on net to Calgary’s 10.
Seven minutes into the first period, James Neal came within inches of opening the scoring for Pittsburgh, firing a wrist shot off the bottom portion of the post. The play was set up by a beautiful no-look pass below the goal line from Jussi Jokinen.
Less than four minutes later, Pascal Dupuis broke through to give Pittsburgh the one-goal lead. After whiffing on a shot attempt earlier in the shift, Dupuis gravitated to the area between the circles waiting for another opportunity. A Sidney Crosby takeaway led to a shot from the captain that trickled through the pads of Flames netminder Karri Ramo. An unmarked Dupuis quickly rushed to the net and tapped it past the red line for his seventh goal of the season.
The goal extended the streak to 12 consecutive games that Crosby, Dupuis or Chris Kunitz has scored a goal dating back to Nov. 29. During that stretch the trio has combined for 20 goals, 24 assists and 44 points.
ZOLNIERCZYK SCORES FIRST WITH PENS
Harry Zolnierczyk scored his first goal with Pittsburgh in the first period, deflecting a slap shot from defenseman Robert Bortuzzo to put the Pens up 2-0.
After establishing a great cycle down low during a hard-working shift with Neal and Jokinen, Zolnierczyk teamed up with Bortuzzo and defensman Brian Dumoulin to prevent the puck from escaping the offensive zone. Zolnierczyk then positioned himself right in front of Ramo, as the puck moved back down low.
A double-teamed Neal fired a pass to Bortuzzo, who used the open ice created by the double team to walk the puck toward the net and fire a slap shot on net. The slap shot was headed for the right pad of Ramo, until Zolnierczyk re-directed the rubber just under the cross bar and into the goal.
“It feels good,” Zolnierczyk said. “It wasn’t something I was overly concerned about but just trying to work hard and pay attention to details. It was nice to have one finally go in wearing the black and gold.”
With the score, Zolnierczyk joined Jayson Megna (4G), Chris Conner (3G) and Brian Gibbons (1G) as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton regulars who have scored goals in Pittsburgh this season.
SECOND PERIOD OUTBURST
After the Flames narrowed Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1 midway through the second period, the Penguins’ used goals from Crosby and Neal to erase any chance of an opposition comeback.
After a Calgary power play was thwarted when Colborne took a hooking penalty, ice opened up for Crosby and company with only four skaters aside.
Crosby used a deke to get by Flames defender TJ Brodie after receiving a stretch pass in the neutral zone, skating in with a burst of speed towards Ramo.
Crosby wound back at the top of the circle and fired a slap shot past the glove of Ramo, scoring for his 20th time this season and tying him for the team lead with Kunitz.
“I saw some room on the glove side,” Crosby said. “I don’t usually take too many slap shots but I had enough time to take one. Just happy to see it go in.”
Just over four minutes later, a great pass from Crosby to Matt Niskanen resulted in the eventual game-winner that gave Pittsburgh a two-goal cushion headed into the third period.
Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta both left the game at different times due to injury. Each man missed about seven minutes of game action each, but returned to log significant minutes.
“Anytime you go down to five defensemen, or anytime you go down your top guys in the lineup, you are talking about playing offense with your defense or playing defense with your offense and minimizing stress,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I don’t think we did a great job of that in that stretch of time.”
Author: Sam Kasan