Defenseman Jordan Leopold was not the only new face to join the Penguins lineup in Tuesday night’s 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Mellon Arena. Forward Maxime Talbot, who had played only 28 games while battling a variety of injuries, was back on the ice.
“It felt great to be back out there,” Talbot said. “It was about time I got back in the game. It felt good to be a part of this.”
Talbot hadn’t dressed since playing 9:04 minutes against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 28. He missed the final seven games heading into the Olympic break and 10 of 11 overall. He first injured his groin back on Jan. 19 following a collision with New York Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson.
Head coach Dan Bylsma was happy to get Talbot back into the fold following the break as the Penguins rolled out four lines throughout the game. Bylsma wanted to make sure he monitored the ice time of centers Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
, who just arrived back in Pittsburgh earlier this week after representing their countries in Vancouver.
In fact, Bylsma credited the work of the Talbot-Craig Adams-Mike Rupp line in helping the Penguins jump out to a 2-0 lead on Buffalo.
“I thought our fourth line was a real factor in the game,” Bylsma said. “They drew a penalty in the first in the offensive zone. I liked their tenacity. They were relentless on pucks. They kept them hemmed in the offensive zone.
“They were physical and Max was a big part of that. It was good to see him back in that kind of role where he can buzz around and be tenacious, and have offensive zone shifts. I was real pleased with that line and Max in particular.”
Talbot said he was pleased with where his game was at following the layoff. He felt for one of the first times all season he was able to establish his physical presence in the offensive zone.
“I haven’t had a chance to do that too much this year so it definitely feels good mentally to be able to be back out there, throw my body around and help the guys,” Talbot said.Leopold Solid in Penguins Debut
Defenseman Jordan Leopold made his Penguins debut on Tuesday night after being acquired from Florida on Monday in exchange for a 2010 second-round draft pick.
The 29-year-old Golden Valley, Minn. native acquainted himself quite nicely in his debut. Leopold, who spent the night paired with Alex Goligoski, saw 18:12 minutes of ice time and led the team with four blocked shots.
“I can tell you that I liked the battle level of our defense,” Bylsma said. “He was a part of that and I liked the way he played tonight for his first game and adjusting to a new situation and a new partner.
“I like the way our six D looked and he fit right in. He didn’t look like he was out of place and he joined the play, and a couple times had a chance with the puck on his stick and it was blocked, but he looked comfortable and solid. I liked the way he played tonight.”
Leopold said he felt himself getting better as each period progressed.
“I think the first period was rough for me tonight, but in the second period, I started feeling a little bit more comfortable,” Leopold said. “In the third period, I felt more comfortable, as well. I think, for me, it’s just a matter of building onto every game, every period and every shift.”
Leopold, who saw action on the second power-play unit and on the penalty kill, believes his skills will mesh nicely with the Penguins up-tempo system.
“I think the team’s philosophy is different from what we had in Florida,” Leopold said. “I’m going to have to learn quickly, but I’m up for the challenge and excited about it.”Fedotenko Ends Drought
Ruslan Fedotenko has long been lauded as a strong second-half performer throughout his career. If Tuesday night is any indication, Fedotenko is poised to continue that trend again this season. He ended a 17-game goalless draught with the game-winning goal in the third period off a set faceoff play.
“That was perfect,” Fedotenko said. “We practice those faceoff plays in practice so that was good to see.”
Fedotenko played a huge role in the Penguins’ second goal, as he made a good play behind the net to fight off a Sabres defender before walking out of the far side and laying a perfect pass onto the blade of Pascal Dupuis
for an easy tap-in goal.
“We were controlling the puck there and trying to cycle on them,” Fedotenko said. “Duper put the puck behind the net and I saw the D not really touch the puck, so instead of playing physical on him I figured I would just take the puck. I saw in the corner of my eye Duper cutting in the back door so I was just trying to wrap around and either throw the puck on the net or towards him. It ended up right on his stick.”
Fedotenko said he was pleased to see his game rounding into form as the games continue to grow in importance.
“It always feels good to play a good game, especially after a break,” Fedotenko said. “We have these last 20 games and then the playoffs.” Gonchar Records Historic Milestone
Sergei Gonchar got the Penguins off and running in the first period when he blasted a slap shot under the glove of Buffalo goaltender Patrick Lalime to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead on a power play 14:58 into the opening frame.
Gonchar’s tally was his ninth of the season, but the goal was more significant for another reason – it was the 200th of his National Hockey League career. He became the first Russian defender in league history to reach that mark. In fact, only former Penguin Sergei Zubov, with 152, has even hit the 100-goal plateau.
“It is a big milestone,” Gonchar said. “I don’t think any Russian (defensemen) have done that so far so it’s a good thing for me. I forgot I was so close so it kind of surprised me. I am very happy and proud to reach this number.”
Gonchar also said it was huge that his goal came on the power play, especially with how critical special teams are going to be throughout the remainder of the regular season and into the postseason.
“Over these last 19 games you have to work on the little things so that you make sure you are ready when the playoffs start,” Gonchar said. “The power play is a huge part of that. We need to make sure our power play is going strong by the time the playoffs begin.”