Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens' 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars at PPG Paints Arena.
* The Pens reclaimed the top position in the seesaw battle that is the Metro Division following a 2-1 victory against Dallas on Sunday night. Pittsburgh's 84 points places it 1 ahead of Washington. No doubt this lead will change hands several more times as the season grinds down to a finish.
* This may have been the Pens' best defensive effort of the season. They held an dominant and dynamic offense in the Dallas Stars to a mere 18 shots on goal. Pittsburgh blocked shots, won puck battles and didn't allow many odd-man rushes against. Following the game head coach Mike Sullivan called the effort "a blue print for success."
* Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak was toiling with the Stars at the start of the season, relegated as the team's sixth/seventh D-man. Thus, he was often a healthy scratch or was relegated to little ice time on the third pairing.
What a difference a trade makes.
Oleksiak has become a valuable member of the Pens' blue line and his offensive game is starting to flourish. He has set career highs across the board in goals (5-t), assists (8) and points (12). He has a bomb of a shot and he made his former employer pay with a nasty blast in the final minute of the 1stperiod to give the Pens a 2-0 lead.
Oleksiak, who has 2 goals in the past 3 games, has looked his best since being paired with Justin Schultz and being moved back to the left side (he's a left-handed shot). Though he claims he doesn't care which side he plays, Oleksiak definitely looks strong on the left and it's showing.
* Evgeni Malkin had 1 goal and 2 points. His 87 points are 1 behind NHL-leader Nikita Kucherov of Tampa Bay.
* The Pens' power play struggled mightily against Toronto, going 0 for 3. But worse than the goose eggs was that the power play was so disjointed and out of sync that it actually cost the Pens momentum with each opportunity. It was a rare bad night for the man-advantage.
Pittsburgh's power play quickly righted things against the Stars. Patric Hornqvist's 20th goal of the season came on the man-advantage after he took a pass in the low circles and quickly snapped off a shot far side for the tally. The power play appeared to have struck again in the 2nd period after Hornqvist finished a tic-tac-toe sequence. But…
* For the 2nd-straight game the Pens had an official ruling go against them. Last night in Toronto it was waving off Brian Dumoulin's goal and assessing him a penalty for goalie interference. Tonight against the Stars Hornqvist's 2nd goal of the game was overturned following an offside challenge by the Stars. With the replay, it was easy to see that Evgeni Malkin's skate was offside before Phil Kessel entered the zone. The 3-1 Pittsburgh lead was erased back to 2-1. It was the correct call.
* There seemed to be some confusion regarding the Stars' ability to challenge despite having already used their timeout. The new NHL rule for this season is that team's can challenge for offside regardless of whether or not they have a timeout. However, if the call stands then the challenging team is assessed a delay of game penalty. Dallas took the risk of being down 3-1 and having to kill a penalty. The risk paid off.
* Finally, kudos to rookie netminder Casey DeSmith. His last start was in Boston where he was pulled after surrendering 3 goals on 5 shots. DeSmith needed a bounce-back performance. He wasn't tested often, but Dallas had a lot of quality scoring chances. DeSmith exorcised the demons of his previous start with a solid outing for the win.