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Endgame: Penguins 5, Rangers 2

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

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FINAL 1 2 3 T
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PENGUINS 2 2 1 5
Geico Coach's Corner
Post Game: Jussi Jokinen
Post Game: Brian Gibbons
Post Game: Taylor Pyatt
Penguins Report: Game Day vs NY Rangers
Preview: Pens vs. NY Rangers
Verizon Game Day Report
Pregame: Taylor Pyatt
Pregame: Kris Letang
Scouting Report: NY Rangers

Forward Taylor Pyatt, claimed off waivers from the Rangers by the Penguins yesterday morning, said the key to success against his former team on Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center was to “get off to a good start.”

“They’ve struggled a little bit scoring 5-on-5, so if we can get off to a good start it’ll make it a tough game for them,” he said.

He would know that better than anyone, and he turned out to be right.

The Penguins built a 3-0 lead within the first 21:09 of play that would turn out to be crucial, as the Rangers scored a pair of goals in the third period to make the game interesting but ultimately couldn’t claw their way out of the hole they had dug for themselves.

The Pens ended up with a 5-2 win, their 11th straight win on home ice – tying their second-longest streak in franchise history set during the 1990-91 season.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves to improve his record in this arena to 29-3 in his last 32 home decisions. The victory was also his NHL-leading 23rd win. Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz each scored twice, Sidney Crosby added a goal and two assists and Brian Gibbons also recorded two assists for the Penguins.

"We obviously got a big start there. That set the tone for the rest of the game," Crosby said. "(Fleury) was good. There were a lot of shots, but he found a way to keep the puck out of the net for the most part and we capitalized on the chances we got."

It’s games like tonight that make it clear just why Kunitz and Crosby should play together on Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics. They were especially dominant, combining for six points in this game. The two of them are now tied for the team lead and fourth in the league with 23 goals apiece in 43 games played.

Crosby assisted on both of Kunitz’s goals, with the first one being the prettiest as it was defined by fancy footwork. Many of the Penguins play a little pregame soccer to warm up, otherwise known as two-touch. They gather in a circle and pass the ball around to each other. They are not allowed to touch it more than twice and whoever touches it last before it drops is eliminated.

Crosby and Kunitz are part of that group that plays before every game, and it paid off on Friday. During a first-period power play, they showed off their skills by combining for a Pele-worthy goal. Matt Niskanen’s shot from the center point deflected off a Rangers stick and to the inside of Crosby’s skate, where he kicked it to his blade and sent it over to Kunitz. That pass hit Kunitz’s skate, where he then kicked it to his stick and pushed it in the net.

“I was just trying to kick it to my stick and it ended up going to him off his foot,” Crosby said. “So it was a weird one. It's weird how those things happen once in a while.”

Crosby made another tremendous effort just outside the crease to get the puck over to Kunitz for his second goal, a big one as it was Pittsburgh’s fifth of the game that cemented the win. On Crosby’s own goal, Kunitz won a puck battle of his own while being sandwiched by a pair of Rangers to find the captain – who roofed a sick backhand past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist deep in the crease.

“I didn't know if he was going to go down or stay up,” Crosby said. “The pass handcuffed me a bit. So I was on my backhand. I was just trying to get it away. It took a while to find it. I wasn't sure if it hit the elbow and went out or stayed in. I was happy to see it stay in there.”

Jussi Jokinen’s versatility has defined his NHL career. He is able to play any forward position anywhere throughout the lineup. That ability had been huge for the coaching staff throughout the influx of injuries, as they could slot Jokinen wherever they needed him.

While Jokinen was contributing in that sense, he hadn’t been in terms of scoring. The assists had been coming, but the goals just weren’t – until tonight.

Jokinen scored with just 1:20 remaining in the first period to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission. It was his first goal in 15 games and his second in 26. He followed that up by scoring a second just 1:09 into the second period to give the Penguins a cushiony 3-0 lead.

Jokinen had moved to center after Evgeni Malkin went down with a lower-body injury on Dec. 14 against Detroit. Tonight was the first game he played back on the wing, and Jokinen said that may have been the difference.

"It's been a while," he said. "And obviously as a forward you always want to score goals. But you can't score every game and when you hit kind of a little bit of a slump, you just try to do all those little things right. It's always been like that a little bit for me when I play center. It's always a little bit more assists and a little bit more defensive game than when I play wing. It's a little more freedom there and some more chances. It felt good to get a couple tonight."

Jokinen had played on the same line as Brian Gibbons for a couple games early last month, but they certainly didn’t display the same chemistry then that they did tonight. Gibbons assisted on both of Jokinen’s goals to give him his second-career multi-point night.

“There are a lot of injuries and guys coming back so the lines are changing,” Gibbons said. “You know everyone's game and where their strengths and weaknesses are. So you try to play to that. Tonight Jussi did a good job of finding holes in the defense. He's a smart player so he's good at that. I just tried to get him the puck. He did a good job finishing.”

Their first goal together was a thing of beauty. It started when Jokinen dumped a puck behind the net for Vitale to retrieve. He reversed a pass along the wall to Gibbons, who made a behind-the-back pass to himself to get the puck to his forehand so he could give Jokinen a perfect feed in front. Jokinen one-touched it into the far top corner with a sick shot.

“I just tried to shake the defender,” Gibbons explained. “I was going behind the net. I saw Juice out in front open. I tried to get it to him and it worked out.”

* Just one day after the Penguins claimed Pyatt off waivers from the Rangers, he faced his former team in his first game as a Penguin. His line with Craig Adams and Joe Vitale combined for a few noticeable extended shifts in the offensive zone. They almost scored on one in the first period, but Adams’ shot over a prone Lundqvist hit the post.

* With Pyatt in, the Pens switched up their lineup. James Neal remained on the top line with Kunitz and Crosby, while Gibbons and Jokinen flanked Brandon Sutter, Pyatt and Adams flanked Vitale and Deryk Engelland moved up to play right wing on the fourth line with Tanner Glass and Zach Sill.

Engelland remained there throughout the game, except when the Pens were on the penalty kill – then he moved back to play D. Engelland logged 2:09 shorthanded minutes as the Pens killed off all three Rangers power plays.

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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