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Notebook: A Total Team Effort

by Tony Jovenitti / Pittsburgh Penguins
Once again, the Penguins found themselves without the talents of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on Friday night. Not only were the Penguins down two star players, but they were also down two goals to the Buffalo Sabres.

But Pittsburgh battled back with the help of everyone in the lineup, as the Penguins rattled off three goals in just over three minutes to spark a 3-2 victory Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center.

“It showed good character from the team,” Zbynek Michalek said. “We didn’t give up, and we kept going at them and changed the momentum.”

Malkin returned to the lineup after missing five games with a knee injury and a sinus infection. But early in the second period, Malkin went down hard in the corner and missed the rest of the game with a lower-body injury.

It was then that the rest of the team knew they had to step up. In the next few minutes, three different players tickled the twine and five different Penguins notched assists.

 “We had made some mistakes, but we really came out invigorated in the second period and really raised the level of our game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We put them back on their heels and were able to capitalize and get some goals.”

Crosby, Arron Asham and Mark Letestu were both out with injuries before the game, and Matt Cooke sat out for half a period with a 10-minute misconduct.

“I think there’s a huge recognition of responsibility when certain players aren’t in the lineup,” Matt Cooke said. “We just have to find ways to win.”

 “I think everybody has elevated their game,” Brooks Orpik said. “It was a good team effort.”

Dustin Jeffrey sparked the comeback with a bit of a fluky goal 3:50 into the second. He powered past Tim Connolly and threw the puck toward Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.

Miller made the save, but the rebound bounced off of Connolly’s skate, over Miller’s right pad and into the net. It was Jeffrey’s fourth goal in just 10 games with the Penguins.

“Dustin came in with a big goal and that really boosted our team and helped our morale,” Cooke said. “And we started to tilt the ice.”

It was Terrible Towel Friday at CONSOL Energy Center in support of the Steelers’ attempt to win their record seventh Super Bowl. The yellow towels were swirling for nearly the entirety of the middle frame, and Matt Cooke completed the comeback at 7:04.

Jordan Staal fed Cooke a crisp pass into the slot.  He drove toward the crease, flipped to his backhand and chipped the puck past Miller top shelf. But Cooke gave all the credit to Staal.

“I’d like to credit his effort on the backcheck before (the pass),” Cooke said. “He hunted the puck, lifted a stick, turned and found me. I just pulled it back and got it in the net.”

Despite the injuries, the Penguins have won five straight game. The entire team stepped up and found ways to win games.

“(Players) haven’t tried to step out of character,” Bylsma said. “They’ve really played the way we need to play.”

Midway through the second period, Michalek bounced the puck off the sideboards to Tyler Kennedy to set up Kennedy’s sniper-shot goal to tie the game, 2-2. Michalek’s assist marked his third in as many games.

At the team’s shootout contest at the end of Monday’s practice, Michalek was the last man standing and became the Penguins’ fifth mustache boy of the year.  He said even though he had played 41 games for the Penguins, he finally felt like an inaugurated member of the team.

It must have worked, since Michalek has now registered an assist in every game since becoming mustache boy.  It’s his first three-game assist streak with the Penguins, and he said he might get a little superstitious if he keeps up this impressive stretch.

“If that’s the case, I will keep it for the rest of the season,” he laughed. “I wouldn’t mind. If that’s what it takes for me to get points.”
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