After a really nice game in Minnesota it might have been easy for the Penguins to come in to a lull against a Canadiens team that hasn’t been very good this year. Luckily for the Penguins they came out and did what they had to do and that was beat a team that was down. Not only did they beat the Habs but they put out a total dominating performance.
To be honest the Penguins really didn’t do anything different from when they were in Minnesota, they worked the Dan Bylsma system and wore the Habs down until they could just finish them with a few goals in the second and third period. The grinders worked hard and they were rewarded with a Joe Vitale second period goal and an Arron Asham third period goal. Both goals were the first of the season for each of them and it was just a testament to how the night went for the Penguins.
Of course you still had a goal, and the game winning one, from James Neal who is just white hot to start the season. With his seventh goal he now leads the entire NHL. I know I talked about Neal a good bit after the game on Tuesday night but he is just working well and finding the soft spots and making teams pay. You know things are going well for Neal because he whiffed on the shot that he took but it was still able to squirt by Carey Price on the short side and barely trickle over the line.
Brooks Orpik made his return to the lineup tonight and played pretty well. Granted the Penguins didn’t give up a goal till really late so I guess that is good but with a guy like Mike Cammallari on the ice you need to be top notch even if it is your first game of the season. It was also announced right before puck drop that Dustin Jeffrey was going to play and he got just under eight minutes of ice time. Good to have those two guys back and it will be nice to see them get their lets under them over the next couple of weeks.
I think we all pretty much knew that Marc Andre Fleury wasn’t going to get the shutout and that was proven when he gave up a goal with just over a minute and a half left but this was the sharpest that MAF has been all season. When the score was still 0-0 early in the first period MAF was huge in making point blank saves and giving the Penguins time to grind down the Habs. All told he made 27 saves and early they were tough, but that is what good goaltenders do. In the first the Penguins were turning the puck over and begging the Canadiens to take the lead but MAF said no. He earned the number one star and it was much deserved.
Deryk Engelland has been quietly having a nice season for the Penguins out of the number three defensive pairing. He had two assists tonight but what is really nice to see is that he isn’t getting out of position too often. Engelland is known as the big hitter that is more than willing to drop the gloves but he hasn’t been putting himself out of position going for the big hits this year and it shows. Something else that is going pretty much under the radar is that when Engelland gets a chance to shoot the puck he always hits the net. Sometimes shooting the puck isn’t all about scoring but it is about getting that rebound around the net and letting your teammates clean it up. I like what I have seen so far and hopefully he can keep this up and be a good, solid, option on the blue line for the entire season.
Remember last year when Neal couldn’t buy a goal to save his life? Well replace Neal with Steven Sullivan and that is what you have this year. Sullivan missed a couple of empty nets tonight during play and it just has to kill him that he hasn’t been able to put one into the net. If you remember me talking last year you know that I would be more worried about a guy if he wasn’t getting chances. For the most part Sullivan is getting chances and playing some pretty good hockey so I am not worried one bit. The shots will fall if he keeps getting chances. It isn’t like these chances are by dumb luck, he is working hard and the shots just aren’t falling. They will and when they do, watch out.
The Penguins penalty kill is just ridiculously good. The Habs had four power play opportunities and didn’t even come close to sniffing a goal. Just unreal effort by that group of guys. So far this season they have only given up one power play goal and that was in overtime when it was 4-on-3. They are perfect in 5-on-4 situations and it is scary good. They already have three short handed goals in nine games and when they eventually do give up a power play goal it is going to be a huge disappointment. I want to see how far this thing can go. You want to know who is a huge part of the PK? Jordan Staal. Last night I talked about how you can’t always evaluate a player based on goals and points and that is event by what Staal does. Go watch the Habs power plays tonight and watch Staal. Absolutely dominant. Pressures the point and forces bad decisions. Just great hockey.
If there is one other thing that the Penguins dominate at besides the PK then it is face offs. They won 39-of-64 of them and that is just a huge advantage to have, especially in specialty situations and late in games. Mark Letestu was outstanding tonight winning 11-of-15 face offs and Staal won 13-of-21 attempts. Just a huge advantage to have.
Devils on Saturday night. Marty won’t be playing. Whatever.