When you play 82 games in a season you are not going to be on top of your game every single night. There are going to be times where a team must dig deep to scratch-and-claw against their opponent. The Penguins did that on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche, rebounding form a subpar first two periods to register the final four tallies to take home a 4-1 victory.
Colorado, in the middle of a five-game road swing, played the night before in Florida, dropping a 6-5 decision in a shootout. The Penguins, on the other hand, had the night off. After 40 minutes it would have been tough to determine which team had which scenario.
“I think we just made it easy on them,” Brooks Orpik
said. “We tried to make too many plays at their (blue line) instead of getting pucks behind them. That was what they were doing to our defense all night. The first couple periods it was no fun for us.”
The Avalanche struck first 5:02 into the opening frame when rookie T.J. Galiardi tapped home a centering pass from Darcy Tucker during the tail end of a power play. Colorado continued to carry the play the remainder of the period, but a late breakdown allowed the Penguins to send the game into the first intermission knotted at 1-1.
Mike Rupp sent a pass to Sidney Crosby
streaking through center ice. The Penguins captain entered the zone two-on-one with Rupp, and the two executed a perfect give-and-go which ended with Crosby depositing the puck behind Colorado netminder Peter Budaj with seven seconds left in the period.
“It wasn’t the strongest period for our team,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “They played really well and looked like a team that was ready to get pucks behind our D. Getting that goal allowed us to start the second period at 0-0 and focus on the next 40 minutes.”
However, the Penguins weren’t able to capitalize on the Crosby goal during the second period as the Avalanche carried the play, outshooting Pittsburgh 9-5, although neither team was able to put a goal on the board.
“We were not executing at the level we had to against their team,” Bill Guerin said. “They are very aggressive and they take away time and space. If you just throw the puck they are going to be on you and they are going to make it difficult.”
Colorado made things very difficult on the Penguins the first two periods, especially a Penguins defensive core which spent most of the early evening turning their backs trying to outlet the puck from behind their own net as the Avalanche constantly got pucks behind the them.
“When they chip it behind you and you are getting hit, it is tough to make plays,” Orpik said.
Fellow blueliner Mark Eaton agreed.
“That’s what they did to us in the first two periods,” Eaton said. “It is not easy going back (to retrieve pucks) all night.”
Center Jordan Staal
placed some of the blame on the Penguins’ shortcomings on the forwards.
“We weren’t able to sustain pressure on their D,” Staal said. “Our forwards weren’t doing a good enough job of playing in their end, mixing it up and pressuring their D to force them into mistakes. We did a better job of that in the third.”
Just as they had in their previous two wins over the New York Rangers, the Penguins dominated in the third period, thanks to a timely goal from their power play.Evgeni Malkin
fed the puck to Crosby at the top of the right-wing circle. Crosby faked Budaj into thinking he was going to shoot then he slid a cross-ice pass over to Guerin, who threw a shot under Budaj’s pad for the go-ahead score.
“I was thinking shot and then I still had my head up,” Crosby said. “I saw Billy getting himself into position off to the side. I just kind of had my eye on him a little bit. He did a great job of getting open and then finishing the play.”
As impressed as Crosby was with Guerin’s finishing ability, Guerin was just as impressed with the way Crosby faked Budaj into thinking he was going to take the shot.
“I think he did, absolutely,” said Guerin of whether Crosby’s head fake froze Budaj. “He had a little bit harder time coming over. Sid sold it pretty good.”
That assist gave Crosby his 10th point in the past three games. He would later add an empty-net goal for a third-consecutive multiple-goal game. Malkin, the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner, believes Crosby is making an early charge for the award this year.
“Sid is playing very well right now,” Malkin said. “I hope he wins the scoring title. I enjoy playing with him.
“He plays 100-percent every shift. He is shooting the puck a lot more and using his great shot. Last year he passed more and this year he is shooting more and getting more goals.”
Almost as important as the goal was the way Pittsburgh responded to taking their first lead of the night. They totally dominated the third period, outshooting Colorado 14-1 as they used the next several shifts following the Guerin goal to erase a disappointing first two periods with a fantastic final few minutes.
“The first shift after a goal is always huge and I think we came back with a handful of good shifts to pen them in and make sure they didn’t have a chance,” Orpik said.
Staal joined Crosby in adding empty-net goals in the final 49 seconds to make the game appear more lopsided than it really was at 4-1.
While this might not have been the prettiest of the Penguins 20 wins, making them the first team to reach that figure in ’09-10, they will gladly take the W with how the first 40 minutes went for them.
“They aren’t all going to be pretty when you play 82 (games),” Orpik said. “With a schedule like this good teams have to find ways to win and that’s what we did here.”