Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens' 4-1 win over St. Louis…
This was Marc-Andre Fleury's first start since Jan. 14 in Detroit. It's been much longer between starts than he's accustomed to, so some rust was to be expected. But he was solid, and at times he was terrific. He came up with a number of timely, clutch saves on high quality chances, including stopping a breakaway from Patrik Berglund and Paul Stastny in alone. Overall, a great night for Fleury and great to see him get a win in his first game between the pipes in a while. Credit to the guys in front of him for playing solid defensively as well, allowing just 18 shots in the game.
It's not often you get to see two defensemen have breakaways out of the penalty box on the same shift, but we got treated to that tonight. The Blues had 1:20 of a 5-on-3 advantage that started when Ian Cole and Kris Letang both took penalties late in the first. When Cole was released, he got a pass and went in alone - but his shot sailed high. When Letang was let out shortly after, Carter Rowney hit him with the puck and he went forehand deke to help the rookie get his first career NHL point.
Also, credit to the Pens out there killing - primarily Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Olli Maatta and of course Fleury - to allow Cole and Letang to even get those chances.
The Blues certainly played a physical game, and got nastier as time went on - giving the Pens five power plays as a result. Carl Hagelin left in the first period after taking a high hit and did not return (head coach Mike Sullivan said he will be re-evaluated when they get back to Pittsburgh). While the Pens hit them where it truly hurts - the scoreboard - you don't like to see those kinds of plays. They stayed disciplined, though, with Cole and Letang taking the only penalties.
Sidney Crosby got two points closer to 1,000 (he's now three away) in dramatic fashion. He opened the scoring with a vintage Crosby goal, roofing a backhand shot from his knees. He followed that up by setting up Justin Schultz for the Pens' third goal on a perfect pass, and capped the night off with an empty-netter. It was one of those nights where you could tell the captain was feeling it. He was dominant out there and controlled play whenever he was on the ice. Crosby was reunited with longtime linemate Chris Kunitz for the game and the two seemed to pick up right where they left off. Kunitz got a pair of assists, including setting up Crosby for that first goal.
Overall, the Pens did a good job of making space for themselves, a lot more than they had when the Blues shut them out 3-0 on Jan. 24 - which isn't easy to do against a big, physical team like St. Louis. Mike Sullivan talks a lot about how speed doesn't just mean moving your feet; it also means moving the puck. And the Pens did that quickly tonight. They got out of their end fast, which means the Blues weren't able to wear them down with a heavy forecheck, and up the ice quick, which forced them to backpedal into their defensive structure.
It also helps that the Pens' execution was on point. Their passes were clean and crisp and everyone on the ice just seemed to be in sync. Their performance was especially impressive considering the opponent and having played last night.