The Penguins and Jets put on quite a show for the 18,602 fans in attendance at CONSOL Energy Center on Saturday afternoon, combining for 13 goals as Pittsburgh came away with an 8-5 win.
“It was a weird game. It was a bouncy game,” defenseman Kris Letang
said. “They had a few chances, but most of the time when we put the puck behind their D, we were outbattling them down low.
“It wasn’t perfect, but we’ll take the two points.”
The Penguins tied a season-high output for goals in the victory, with the last (and only other) time they scored eight in a game being Dec. 11 vs. Buffalo (8-3).
It was a welcomed burst of offense from the Penguins, who entered the game with a total of just six goals through their last four games. Eleven different Penguins got their name on the scoresheet, led by Evgeni Malkin
’s five-point outing (1G-4A), which tied his single-game career high, Chris Kunitz
’ goal and three assists and Letang’s two goals and one assist.Jordan Staal
also notched a goal and an assist in his first game back since missing
15 straight with a knee injury suffered Jan. 6 vs. NY Rangers.
The win extends Pittsburgh’s home winning streak to five games, which is the NHL’s second-longest active stretch behind Detroit’s 19-game home winning streak.
On Friday, Matt Cooke
likened Jordan Staal
’s return to the lineup after a 15-game absence to “winning the lottery and/or making a big deal at the deadline.”
He’s absolutely right.
Staal showed exactly why he’s so important to this Penguins squad with his performance on Saturday, scoring a goal and adding an assist through 16:14 minutes of ice time.
“His presence, skating ability, what he can do made a big difference in the game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Having him there in those situations are a big difference, having that body there. The assist was a bigger play than the goal. I’m glad to see him get the goal as well.”
While it took some time to shake off the rust and get his legs back after such a long layoff, Staal – who skated on a line with Cooke and Pascal Dupuis
– said he started to hit a groove after the first 20 minutes.
“It took me a few shifts to get into it,” he said. “After the first period I was feeling pretty good.”
The Penguins dug themselves an early 2-0 deficit within the first eight minutes of play, but Staal made a pretty pass on the wall to Dustin Jeffrey
to get his team right back in the game.
On the play, Letang got the puck just behind his own blue line and sent a quick pass up the wall to Staal, who made a no-look backhand dish to a streaking Jeffrey. Jeffrey carried to the net and sniped one top shelf, near side past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
“‘Tanger’ made a great play to move it up the wall,” Staal said. “I saw ‘Jeffer’ cutting to the middle. I just put it in an area. He didn’t have too bad of a shot to get that first one.”
On Staal’s goal, Cooke forced a turnover on the wall and Dupuis collected the loose puck He saw Staal cutting to the net and hit him with a pass that he snapped past Pavelec for his 16th goal of the season.
“‘Duper’ made a great pass,” Staal said. “I jumped into the slot. I was trying to make a quick move and shoot as fast as I can. I know Cooke made a great pass to get it to Duper. Those two are great linemates.”
Staal won’t have much time to rest, as the Penguins host the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night. It’s never easy playing back-to-back games, especially for a player trying to regain his timing and conditioning, but Staal’s not complaining – he’s just happy to be back.
“We’ll see how I feel (Sunday),” he said. “There were a few shifts here and there where you feel it a little bit. I felt good and expect to play hard tomorrow and see how the legs feel.”
Another game, another dominant performance by Evgeni Malkin
The Penguins center tied his single-game career high with five points (1G-4A) on Saturday vs. Winnipeg, which marked his 400th career NHL contest.
The goal was his 30th of the season, meaning he’s hit that number for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign. It also meant that Malkin has now tallied at least one goal in seven straight home games.
Malkin also increased his league-leading point total to 67, establishing a five-point margin between him and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux.
“I feel great,” Malkin said. “We have a great team. We got Staal back today. It’s an unbelievable four lines.”
But it wasn’t just Malkin who had a magnificent outing – linemates Chris Kunitz
and James Neal
also had phenomenal games.
Kunitz also tied his single-game career high with a four-point outing, scoring once and adding three assists while Neal produced a goal and an assist.
Overall, the line combined for 11 points on the day – an outing they were looking for after being dissatisfied with their recent play.
“The last four games we haven’t scored. We talked before the game about moving the puck,” Malkin said. “It’s just making easy plays, get to the offensive zone and shoot the puck.”
All four of Pittsburgh’s lines scored at least once in Saturday’s contest.
Malkin, Kunitz and Neal all tallied for the first line, Staal scored for the second and Jeffrey got on the board for the third.
It would be Richard Park
who tallied for the fourth line, his 100th in the NHL and a goal that his teammates and coaches singled out as a significant one as it came just 19 seconds after the Jets cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-4.
“It was a big goal by Richard Park
. A goal by our fourth line was a big shift,” Bylsma said.
Secondary scoring is a crucial initiative for this Penguins squad. So while they weren’t happy about surrendering five, managing to overcome that by scoring eight is certainly a step in the right direction.
“It was great. A night like this, you want everybody to be involved and we had a chance to have goals from every line,” Letang said. “Really important when ‘Parksy’ scored after one of their goals. It was kind of a momentum change.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo