After the Penguins lost their season opener to Buffalo on Thursday, two phrases kept popping up around the locker room over the last couple of days: "cooperative effort" and "come together."
Well, the Penguins came together with a collective, cooperative effort in all three zones with a dominating 7-2 win against Columbus on Saturday. From the top of the lineup on down, every player contributed to a confidence-boosting victory that helped them get their swagger back. It's just one game, but definitely a big building block.
"It was awesome," Jared McCann said. "It was a full team effort. (Matt Murray) made some huge saves for us at the back end there. That kind of translated into playing well defensively. If you play well defensively, you're going to score goals. I think that's what it comes down to."
* As always, the Penguins go as their captain does - and Sidney Crosby certainly set the tone tonight. He had a ton of jump to his game and was back doing what he does, setting up his teammates with some ridiculous passes and just dominating every time he took the ice.
Crosby even fought Columbus' Pierre-Luc Dubois after the Blue Jackets forward hit Jake Guentzel up high and then cross-checked Crosby. At that point, Crosby had enough of his shenanigans and they dropped the gloves. They took things into the corner of the Penguins' zone, and that's where Crosby took him down.
"Just wanted to go over there and stick up for him," Crosby said, with McCann adding, "That's what you want to see out of a captain."
With Crosby collecting two assists, he nearly completed the Gordie Howe hat trick.
"Yeah, trust me," Crosby said when asked if he knew he was close. "Not many opportunities to get them, so if I had an opportunity for one, I usually know it. It doesn't happen that often. So, would've been nice to get one tonight."
* Unfortunately, the Penguins lost Evgeni Malkin at the end of the first period after he was hit into the boards awkwardly while falling. McCann stepped into his spot between Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Tanev and stepped up with an incredible performance.
McCann really started to show his goal-scoring ability down the stretch last season, with 11 goals in 32 games following his acquisition from Florida. He's picking up right where he left off, with two goals in tonight's contest. Both tallies came on odd-man rushes, with McCann taking the option to shoot, which you love to see.
He clicked right away with Galchenyuk, who set up both his goals. Fun fact - McCann actually used Galchenyuk's curve growing up. "I actually have it at home. Chucky 27," McCann said. "I told him about it when I first got here. It's pretty cool. We had some good chemistry."
With Malkin and Nick Bjugstad (who left the game in the third period) currently being evaluated, the Penguins may need McCann to continue seizing the opportunity he had tonight.
* McCann wasn't the only Penguins player to have two goals in the game, as Patric Hornqvist did as well. One of them was a typical Hornqvist goal - deflecting a shot from the net-front - and the other was a feed from Crosby.
Hornqvist is someone who had a relatively down season last year dealing with injuries and inconsistency, so it's awesome to see him get rewarded tonight.
* Not to be outdone, the Penguins' fourth line looked terrific, especially in the first period. They had one especially good shift where Teddy Blueger managed to go backhand-forehand in tight space and get a good shot off and Zach Aston-Reese was robbed on a one-timer from the slot.
Blueger in particular stood out tonight. He was relentless on the puck and was making things happen in the offensive zone. He also got rewarded with Pittsburgh's seventh and final goal of the night.
The Penguins blue line had a heck of a game at both ends of the ice. They got goals from Marcus Pettersson and Kris Letang, with Jack Johnson setting up Hornqvist for a tip as well.
They spent a lot more time in the offensive zone tonight than they did on Thursday, when the Sabres pinned them in their own end for long stretches. That goes back to the cooperative effort that was missing against Buffalo. They did a good job of breaking the puck out and being options once they got down the length of the ice.
And finally, Matt Murray was sharp as ever for a second straight game. Sometimes the goalie's performance can get a little lost when the score is this lopsided, but he was great again tonight after making 38 saves in the season opener - especially early on.
He made a key save in the opening minutes of play when the Penguins gave up a shorthanded chance to Boone Jenner. If that goes in, the game could have gone differently. Instead, Murray made the stop and kept the first period scoreless, setting his team up to blow the game open in the second period.