Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens' 7-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre.
*Where to begin?
I guess we'll begin at the beginning. A lot of bad blood was spilled between these 2 teams in the previous game, and there was a question of whether it would spill over into tonight's game. It didn't take long to find out.
In the opening 3:35 minutes there were 2 fights with Evgeni Malkin dropping the gloves against Blake Wheeler (more on that in a bit) and Tom Sestito going toe-to-toe with Chris Thorburn.
Things only seemed to intensify from there as the nastiness continued to ratchet up. It culminated with Sestito taking a boarding penalty on Toby Enstrom, which resulted in a 5-minute major and game misconduct at 13:10 of the opening frame.
After that the game settled down, but it was quite a frantic start. Still, the 2 teams combined for 2 misconduct penalties, 17 penalties and 65 penalty minutes.
*Kudos to Malkin for answering the bell against Wheeler. Their feud began in the last meeting when Malkin charged Wheeler, and the Jets forwarded certainly didn't forget it. In fact, he's been quite vocal about his displeasure over the play.
So Wheeler challenged Malkin to a fight. As per the unwritten code in the NHL, Malkin needed to accept the fight. Even though Malkin is in no way a fighter, and it showed in the bout, he stepped up and answered for his hit.
"(Wheeler) asked me to fight," Malkin said. "I knew it wasn't a great hit last game. I respect him. It wasn't my greatest fight. Just a couple punches and I lost.
"One fight is enoug for me."
*After Malkin answered the call with his fists, he answered more loudly with his stick. He notched 2 goals and an assist in the contest (his 1st career Gordie Howe hat trick by the way). The 1st was on a breakaway to tie the game at 2-2. But his 2nd goal, in the 2nd period, gave the Pens a backbreaking 5-3 lead. The Jets never recovered.
*Following practice on Tuesday head coach Mike Sullivan pulled aside center Nick Bonino and the two had a long talk on the ice. Whatever was said, clearly worked.
Bonino responded with a hat trick against the Jets. It was his 2nd career hat trick (Feb. 2, 2014 vs. Los Angeles) and 2 tallies came on the power play. Bonino entered the game with 9 goals on the season. He posted a third of that in 40 minutes.
"Sometimes 3 go in and sometimes none go in for a few games," Bonino said. "Tonight was one of those nights the puck went in.
"After you get 1 you get a little more confidence. I started shooting more. I was just trying to get the puck off quick and hope it went, and they did."
But if Sullivan did give Bonino a pep talk the other day in practice, Bonino was coy about it.
"We were just talking about movies," he said, possibly joking, but with a straight face. "It was Independence Day 1 vs. 2. He liked 2 better. I liked 1."
*The Pens turned the tide in this game in the 2nd period with a 4-goal outburst that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 advantage. And the key to that turning point was their play on special teams.
They opened the period having to kill 2 penalties (1 a holdover from the 1st period on Chris Kunitz, the other on Mark Streit). Pittsburgh was successful on both accounts. Then the power play took over.
With the score still 3-2, advantage Jets, Winnipeg took back-to-back penalties to give the Pens a 5-on-3. The Pens made them both count, scoring on each to take a 4-3 lead in a span of 20 seconds.
Malkin would add another goal to give the Pens 3 goals in a 57-second span and ended the night of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. But the Pens weren't done. They converted 1 more power-play tally (Bonino's hat trick goal) for their 3rd man-advantage score of the period. They finished off the frame by killing another penalty.
When you are a plus-3 in the special teams battle it's near impossible to lose. But to go plus-3 in 20 minutes is incredible.
*Some notables: Malkin's 1st goal of the game was his 30th of the season. It's the 5th time in his career that he's reached the 30-goal mark, becoming just the 5th Penguin to achieve that feat … Schultz has a 3-game scoring streak with 6 points (3G-3A) … Chad Ruhwedel notched a career-high 3 assists/points … Patric Hornqvist was a late scratch due to injury.