The Penguins came out firing on all cylinders Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues, and head coach Dan Bylsma said the 5-1 victory was this season’s first taste of the team’s full potential.
Bylsma’s group absolutely dominated the Blues in the first period, outshooting St. Louis 20-3 in the frame and taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
The 2-0 lead the Penguins carried out of the first does not properly reflect the advantage the team had. St. Louis could not muster any sustained time in the Penguins’ offensive zone as the Pittsburgh blueliners slammed the door in the Blues’ face every time they attempted to get anything started offensively.
The Penguins forechecked well and appeared to be flying on the ice that period.
“We’ve won hockey games, but none of them in this fashion,” Bylsma said. “We talked about winning a game where we dictate the pace, force a team to play at our pace and deal with our speed in the offensive zone, and getting 15 shots a period and wearing them down.”
We’ve won hockey games, but none of them in this fashion. We talked about winning a game where we dictate the pace, force a team to play at our pace and deal with our speed in the offensive zone, and getting 15 shots a period and wearing them down. - Dan Bylsma
Despite their dominant play the Penguins were kept off the board until 11:19 of the period when Jay McKee pinched down the boards into St. Louis territory and flipped a nifty backhand pass to the stick of Tyler Kennedy
, who then blasted it by Blues goaltender Chris Mason. McKee’s pass showed glimpses of some offensive flair to go along with his rugged shot blocking ability.
This is where the game truly fell apart for the Blues. St. Louis center Andy McDonald took a high-sticking penalty less than a minute after the Penguins’ first goal. This opened the door for Evgeni Malkin
to score the first power-play goal of the game, catching one of his own rebounds and zipping the puck just under the crossbar.
After the Penguins score their second goal in little over a minute, St. Louis head coach Andy Murray tried to stop the bleeding by calling a timeout immediately after Malkin’s power-play goal. The shots we’re 12-1 at this point.
“If we have a mentality that if we play like that, third-period mentality, then we’ll wear them down by the third period,” Bylsma said. “That’s the kind of game we started out with, 20 shots in the first. That’s the kind of thing where when you force teams to play like that it’s difficult to play at that speed.”
The team played exactly to Bylsma’s liking for the first half of the game.
“The first 30 minutes was an example of (what we want to do),” Bylsma said. “From our standpoint as coaches that was our best team game in terms of setting the pace and the standard for the game.”
Forward Matt Cooke
, who gathered a goal and an assist, agreed with Bylsma and was happy about how the team came out swinging.
“I think that it’s the most complete, in that the first 30 minutes, the way that we want to approach the game,” Cooke said. “We knew that they were going to come out and play hard and it was a focus of ours to make sure that we played our best game so far this year.
“We hadn’t been there yet. Really that is getting to the offensive zone and banging at it. We did a good job of that in the first period.”
A quick start to a game is often the key to winning a hockey game. After the Penguins dominating first, it was hard for St. Louis to build any true momentum.
“To be able to come out and play the way that we did, no matter who we’re playing against, is a good feeling,” Cooke said.
The pace of the game cooled for the Penguins as the game went on. But Ruslan Fedotenko, Cooke and Alex Goligoski all added goals to the two scored by Kennedy and Malkin in the first period.
Bylsma has said the team still has a lot of things to work on. But fans got a chance to see the beast of a team the Penguins will be if all goes according to Bylsma’s plans. It could be a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.