Head coach Dan Bylsma said his team needed to come out strong and set the tone for the evening in the first 10 minutes against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were coming off a 7-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
Mission accomplished for the Penguins as they dominated play early, getting the first seven shots of the game and scoring the crucial first goal during a power play 4:57 into the game, en route to a 4-1 victory
“We gave the team momentum by starting off with the power-play goal,” said Sergei Gonchar, who scored once and added an assist later in the game. “We knew the first game was important when you are coming back home playing your best but everybody was focused. I thought we played well. Not only did we start well, but we finished well. It was a good team effort. That is the way we are supposed to play.”
“I think the power play set the tone,” Bylsma said. “Before that we got on the forecheck with three or four good shifts. When you look up and the shots are 7-1, you have set the tone for the game. Getting the goal was the exclamation point on that. At that point our team felt good about how we started and how the game was going to be played.”
The Penguins dominated the Lightning after Drew Miller took a slashing penalty just 3:40 into the game. Bill Guerin put the Penguins in front to stay just 1:07 later, standing to the right of goaltender Antero Niittymaki and throwing the rebound of an Evgeni Malkin
shot into the back of the net while left uncovered by the Tampa Bay defense.
“That helped,” Crosby said of Guerin’s power-play goal. “We wanted to get (the power play) clicking. We wanted to make sure we started off well. We started off early with the power-play goal. That kind of built confidence and set the tone for the game. I think throughout we were pretty consistent. It was a special-teams battle all night.”
Speaking of battles, it was a faceoff battle won by Crosby later in that first period which allowed the Penguins to stretch their lead. The Penguins’ captain won the puck back to Brooks Orpik
at the right point. Orpik passed over to his partner Gonchar, whose one-timer across the grain beat Niittymaki to the blocker side.
“Getting the two-goal lead on the faceoff goal gave us another exclamation point on the period and allowed us to start the homestand off on the right way,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins later built upon and protected that early two-goal lead. They responded when Tampa Bay scored on a power play of their own to cut the lead to 2-1 with a Pascal Dupuis
’ goal. They later iced the game when Mike Rupp beat Niittymaki from the slot on a setup by Crosby.
Overall, it added up to a sound 4-1 defeat of the Lightning. Crosby was pleased with the effort of the team following the Penguins’ second victory in three tries at Mellon Arena.
“I thought guys were focused not having what a lot of people were talking about – that tough game after a long road trip, especially a successful one.”
Thanks to their great start against the Lightning on Saturday night, the Penguins are poised to continue their successful start as they continue this five-game homestand on Tuesday night against another team hungry for victories in the early going, a young and talented St. Louis Blues squad.