Penguins captain Sidney Crosby clearly wasn’t happy on Sunday after the Flyers completed a weekend sweep of his team.
After getting a day off Monday, he was rested and motivated to do something about it.
Crosby set the tone for his team in Pittsburgh’s 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday at CONSOL Energy Center, finishing with two goals and an assist. Crosby now has a team-leading 33 goals and league-leading 91 points. Crosby has an 18-point lead in the race.
“We weren't happy with those losses,” Crosby said. “We know we have to be better. Getting a day off there is no excuse. I wanted to make sure I went out there and played hard. We knew this is another desperate team we're playing that was going to play hard. We can build that same emotion and intensity and have it carry over the rest of the season.”
His line with Chris Kunitz and Lee Stempniak was absolutely dominant, as they combined for four goals and eight points. But while the first line owned the scoresheet, overall, it was a much more complete effort by the entire team to avoid losing three straight regulation games for the first time since Nov. 6-13.
A big focus for the Pens coming into this game was improving their defensive play, and they did that by playing extended shifts in the offensive zone and keeping the Stars from using their speed to be effective. And when the Stars did create scoring chances, starting goalie Jeff Zatkoff was there to make the big saves. He finished with 32 in the contest to improve to 11-2-1 in his last 14 games played.
“That's the way to respond to a tough weekend,” Crosby said. “As a whole we did a better job of holding onto the puck. Still giving up odd-man rushes. We did a better job of dealing with that. 'Tishie' (Zatkoff) made some great saves and as a whole we were much better. That's how we wanted to bounce back. Hopefully, it's something we can build off of here.”
After forward Chris Kunitz missed the two games against Philadelphia with a lower body-injury, he returned to the first line in Tuesday night’s 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars at CONSOL Energy Center. With the first line of he, Sidney Crosby and Lee Stempniak back in action, the trio combined for eight points and scored four of Pittsburgh’s five goals.
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MORE ON SID
Crosby had been held pointless for two straight games heading into tonight. He wasn’t about to make it three straight games for the first time this season.
We can’t say enough about Crosby’s play, as he was at his best on Tuesday night – which is saying a lot when you’re the best player in the world. The captain put on a show for the fans at CONSOL Energy Center, making things happen every time he stepped on the ice. Crosby was absolutely flying, using his speed to make the amazing plays that only he can make.
The one his teammates kept referencing was his first goal, scored just 4:17 into the game. Crosby came onto the ice after a line change and immediately forced a turnover at the Stars’ blue line to hold the zone. He got the puck back from Craig Adams, deked to his backhand and went top shelf over Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.
"(Crosby) played great. That first goal was amazing and he played awesome,” Stempniak said. “I don't know if he was extra motivated. I just attribute him to playing a great game."
“That first goal, he came out right onto the ice and made a great move,” Kunitz added. “I think that gave our team that lift that we needed and energized our team to be able to say we're going to score some goals tonight and play some good defense.”
It certainly helped that the Pens got top-six wingers Kunitz (lower body) and James Neal (concussion) back in the lineup tonight after both players missed the weekend series against the Flyers due to injury.
“I think it's your job when you get back in the lineup to bring that energy, especially after two afternoon games on the weekend and a practice,” Kunitz said. “You got to bring some energy back to the guys. But I think everyone did a great job.”
Kunitz said after the morning skate he hoped that he would be cleared to play so he could help his teammates right the ship. He certainly did just that, scoring his 32nd goal of the season (one behind Crosby for the team lead) to go with an assist.
“It feels good to help out offensively and click with your linemates when you're out there and getting scoring chances,” he said. “It's something you definitely pride yourself on.”
BIG GAME FOR SUTTER
Penguins center Brandon Sutter also had a big game, factoring into two of Pittsburgh’s goals. He got one of his own in the third period, when he scored off a shorthanded breakaway. On the play, Sutter pulled to his backhand and roofed a shot top-shelf, stick-side past Lehtonen. It banked off the goalie’s back and at first, it wasn’t certain if the puck had crossed the goal line. But after a video review, it was ruled a good goal.
“It’s always nice to get one shorthanded,” Sutter said (especially after the Pens had given up a shorthanded goal in two straight games heading into tonight).
In the first period, Sutter's line with Brian Gibbons and Adams made a memorable play to help set up Crosby’s first goal. It started when Sutter gained the zone with speed for a tremendous scoring chance. Crosby then forced that turnover at the blue line to Adams, who gave it right back to the captain for his first of the night.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo