There’s been plenty of time to wonder over the last two seasons what a fully healthy Penguins squad was capable of.
And the answer? Complete domination.
The Penguins rolled to a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center for their season-high 11th straight win, which is now the NHL’s longest winning streak this season. The Penguins have outscored their opponents 43-17 in regulation during the streak.Matt Cooke
scored twice for the second straight game, Sidney Crosby
got three assists in just his second game back after missing 40 consecutive games due to injury, Evgeni Malkin
recorded a goal and an assist and Chris Kunitz
, James Neal
and Pascal Dupuis
also scored for Pittsburgh.Marc-Andre Fleury
made 13 saves to earn his 39th victory of the season, which ties Nashville’s Pekka Rinne for the most in the NHL. Fleury has now won 10 straight decisions dating back to Feb. 18.
The Devils are one of those teams that always seem to have the Penguins’ number. Pittsburgh had gone 1-6-1 in their last eight games at the Prudential Center entering Saturday’s contest and overall the Pens have dropped the season series with their division rival six of the last nine seasons.
So needless to say, head coach Dan Bylsma was happy to see his team come away with the win on Saturday and play the puck-possession, offensive-minded style that exemplifies Pittsburgh Penguins' ice hockey.
“I’m pleased that it wasn’t your typical Penguins-Devils game,” he smiled. “We were pretty good early on at establishing a pace of the game and playing in the offensive zone. I thought we were able to do that a lot and get to that. Whether it was after some power plays or after penalty kills, we were able to re-establish that ability to play at that pace, which is something we were looking to do.”
The Pens are now just two points behind the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference standings (the Rangers host the Colorado Avalanche later tonight at Madison Square Garden). Pittsburgh’s winning streak has allowed them to cut a 10-point deficit back down into two.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
recorded three assists (two primaries) on Saturday against the Devils, giving him five assists in his last two games since returning to the lineup Thursday against the Rangers after missing 40 consecutive contests with concussion-like symptoms and a neck injury.
That gives Crosby 17 points (2G-15A) and six multiple-point games in just 10 games played this season.
Crosby came within inches of adding a goal to his Saturday point total on more than one occasion, but just couldn’t solve Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. Brodeur’s prettiest save on Crosby came in the first period when the captain appeared to have an open net with the goalie down and out, but somehow Brodeur reached back and swept the puck away with the paddle of his stick.
“I had some good chances today that I want to convert,” Crosby said. “That just takes time and getting comfortable in those areas. It’s been good. When the team plays as well as we have the last couple games, it makes it easier for anyone coming back. That’s helping. Everyone is doing a great job and contributing. It’s fun to play when we’re winning like that.”
Crosby played 16:37 minutes centering Matt Cooke
and Tyler Kennedy
for the second straight game. Crosby said it would take time for him to regain peak form after such a long absence, but he certainly looked like his old self on the Prudential Center ice – and it will only get better from here.
“I felt better as the game went on,” he said. “It’s going to take time but hopefully not a lot. I think just trying to get better with each game and make sure that after each game, I see where I have to build on and what I have to work on and go from there. When everyone is chipping in like this, everyone’s job is a lot easier.”
COOKE IS FEELING ITMatt Cooke
is having one heck of a season.
Not only has he managed to completely reinvent this game in stunning fashion this season, but Cooke is having a career year offensively.
Cooke, who is one of the team's best penalty killers, tied his personal best of 15 goals when he scored in the second period of Saturday’s game; then set a new personal record when he tallied No. 16 in the third period.
Cooke, who has been selected by the Pittsburgh chapter of the PHWA as its 2012 Masterton nominee for successfully changing his playing style, has now scored twice in each of his last two games. Full story on Cooke here
POWER PLAY STRIKES
There was a moment in Saturday’s game that surely pleased Penguins fans everywhere and instilled a bit of worry into future opponents: Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
connecting for a gorgeous power-play goal.
Crosby did a great job on the boards of protecting the puck from Jacob Josefsen and was able to feather a perfect cross-ice pass to the blade of Malkin. Malkin instantly wound up and fired. Brodeur had no chance.
Although the Devils possessed the NHL’s top-ranked penalty killing unit entering the game, the Penguins have had success against New Jersey with the man-advantage. They’re now 6-for-19 on the power play in five games this season (31.5 percent).
And it was a big tally for Pittsburgh’s revamped power play that features Crosby on the point, Malkin and Kris Letang
around the halfwalls and Neal and Kunitz down low.
“We moved it around,” Crosby said. “That’ll take a little bit of time, but it looked pretty good. We wanted to make sure we were getting lots of shots and still doing the little things, getting traffic and all of those things. But we certainly have the skill out there to make plays when they’re there, too. It’s just a matter of finding that balance and making the right reads out there.”
The goal was Malkin’s 40th of the season. He has now reached the 40-goal mark for the second time in his career (47 in ’07-08) and is just the sixth player in franchise history to have multiple 40-goal seasons (Mario Lemieux, 10; Jaromir Jagr, 5; Kevin Stevens, 4; Jean Pronovost, 4; Mike Bullard, 2).
Malkin now has 86 points this season, placing him slightly ahead of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (84 points) and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux (82) in the NHL scoring race.
The Penguins won nine straight games before Crosby returned to the lineup, and that was due in large part to the play of Pittsburgh’s second line of Jordan Staal
, Pascal Dupuis
and Steve Sullivan
. And that line is continuing to shine, combining for 35 points over the last 11 games.
Dupuis scored in the second period to give him five goals and two assists in a five-game point streak, which ties his career high. Dupuis has also hit the 20-goal mark for just the second time in his career, tying his personal best set in 2002-03 with Minnesota.
Staal’s helper on Dupuis’ goal gives him assists and points (3G-10A) in nine straight games, the longest streak of his career. Staal also now owns the team’s longest point streak of the season (Evgeni Malkin
, nine games, Dec. 8-29). The 23-year-old center now has points in 14 of 16 games since returning from a knee injury Feb. 11.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo