Coming off a five day layoff and only playing two games in the last about two weeks you would think that they might be a little flat and maybe take some time to get things together but that was not the case tonight as the Penguins dominated the West’s best team, the Dallas Stars, at the CONSOL Energy Center tonight.
Despite outshooting the Stars 13-5 in the first period the Pens were down 1-0. It wasn’t like the 11 shots were bad shots because the Penguins dictated play for the period and had really nice looking opportunities but they just couldn’t slip one past Kari Lehtonen. Dallas cracked the scoreboard with just under four minutes left in the period when Kris Letang just absolutely fell asleep as he left Eric Nystrom put a show past Fleury who had no chance.
The Penguins got on the board on the power play late in the second period with only 2:04 left when James Neal snuck one under Lehtonen’s arm to tie the game. It was interesting as the Neal goal came only 24 seconds after the Penguins had a goal taken off the board. Evgeni Malkin threw a puck on net and it was deflected in by Chris Kunitz but was immediately waived off due to a high stick. It was a tough call as on the replay it looked like his stick was right at the top of the bar and the best view came from the far end of the ice which ROOT only showed once but with the call on the ice of no goal I think it was right to keep the call. If it was ruled a goal on the ice then I think that it would have been counted, but so it goes.
The Penguins put the game away in the third period with more dominant play and almost the exact same outcome on its third goal. The Penguins were on the power play and Malkin threw the puck to the goal and it deflected in off a Stars defender but the goal was waved off again. Why you may ask, because Kunitz was called for interfering with the goaltender. Kunitz got there just before the puck got there and this time I think the right call was made but if it was called a goal I don’t think it would have been bad either. So what happens next? James Neal throws a shot on net and it goes off a defenders stick into the net. Just nuts how these things work.
The Penguins wraped it up about halfway through the third with a Matt Cooke penalty shot goal. I shit you not, a penalty shot goal. It was actually a really nice move by Cooke in his first career penalty shot attempt. The goal for Cooke was also his 100th career point with the Penguins. Not bad Matty.
Like I said the Penguins pretty much dominated this game. Coming in the Stars were a team that got outshot a lot but they were winning because Lehtonen was playing out of his mind. Coming into the game the Stars were 8-1 when they were outshot and while they were outshot again tonight they were not as fortunate to get away with a win. Just a nice job by the Penguins to keep the pressure on and earn the win. Dallas was 11-3-0 coming in and to get a regulation win against the top team from the West is really impressive.
James Neal might not get the prettiest goals in the world but he is getting the puck on the net and they are going in. All goals count the same and I am sure he doesn’t care how they go in. I believe he is leading the league in shots and when you are doing that you are going to get the puck in the net and right now he is second in the league with 11 goals. His release is just so quick it is sickening and the chemistry he has on the line with Geno and Steve Sullivan is really nice.
Speaking of that top line I thought they had an outstanding night. Sure you can point to James Neal and say that they had a good night because he had two goals but Malkin was really good with the puck tonight and didn’t make very many mistakes. He was making the right passes and had a few takeaways and looks healthy and looks like he really has that extra jump. Sullivan didn’t take a ton of shots but he was all over the ice setting things up for Neal and Malkin. He was regarded as a goal scoring guy coming in but it is nice to see he is willing to do a little bit of everything and that makes this line dangerous as any in the league.
Kunitz also had a really nice game. He got two goals taken away but he is putting himself in position to be successful. He was a couple inches away from having a huge part in two goals and even though they both got taken off the board that doesn’t take away from what he did to make the particular play happen. He was in front of the net and causing havoc all over the ice. He was also very physical with a couple of huge hits and also played over 22 minutes in the game which was second most on the team.
Kris Letang was bad tonight. There was no two ways about it. He looked lost at times and just didn’t play smart hockey. He was responsible for the lone Dallas goal. I realize that he hasn’t been playing much hockey lately so you can understand him being a little rusty. I am not worried about this as Letang has been pretty good all year and bad games happen. I don’t expect this to be the case as we move forward.
MAF was good. He made a few nice saves but he only faced 20 shots. I think for a guy like MAF he enjoys seeing more shots. Some goaltender fair better when they don’t see a ton of rubber and some are better when they are in the action more and I think MAF is more of the latter but he really stayed focused tonight and didn’t give the Stars a chance to even come close to a comeback.
The Pens power play looks pretty good doesn’t it? 2-for-5 tonight and you can tell that they have a different mindset when they are on the ice and it is working. Love it.
Game Saturday night. There are going to be a ton of fans in Carolina. Can’t wait to hear Cam Ward chants.