Tonight’s game mirrored yesterday’s game in a lot of aspects at the beginning. The Penguins got behind by a couple goals early on some sloppy play then they come back with a couple of really nice goals and went on to win. While the general premise of the game was pretty much the same it was somewhat of different occurrences in the middle.
While the Penguins used eight goals yesterday to beat the Jets they only scored half as many tonight but instead of letting the Lightning get it to a one goal game late they clamped down and didn’t get them score again after Steven Downie set a Lightning record with two goals in 11 seconds early in the third. While yesterday the defensive lapses were frequent tonight they were few and far between and Brent Johnson made some big saves through the second and third period and didn’t let Tampa Bay think they had a chance.
Yesterday the Penguins benefited mightily from secondary scoring but tonight it was the top line that did all the damage, led by the best player in the world at the moment, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin padded his points lead and closed closer on the goal scoring race with a pair of goals, one on the power play and one even strength. Chris Kunitz added a goal and was nice enough to set up the Malkin even strength goal and Kris Letang continues to play out of this world with a goal and two assists.
Really after the Lighting got the two goal lead the Penguins seemed like they flipped a switch and decide that they were going to win the game. The Penguins used a Malkin power play tally to make it 2-1 but they really pulled away from the Lightning in the first four minutes of the second period.
The Penguins managed only eight shots in the first period but they came out for the second and didn’t let Tampa Bay breathe. Kris Kunitz took the puck right down the middle of the ice as the Lighting, who had four players back at the time, literally split down the middle and had two people watching Malkin and to people watching James Neal so Kunitz kept the puck and beat Mathieu Garon to tie the game. Tampa Bay then calls a timeout because they literally had no idea what was going on, but instead of coming back and giving the Penguins some pressure the Pens were able to hold the puck in the offensive zone for what seemed like two minutes with the line of Joe Vitale, Steve Sullivan, Craig Adams, Matt Niskanen and Zbyek Michalek and really just broke the will of the Lighting. A minute or so later Kuntiz threw a beautiful saucer pass to Malkin on a break and the Penguins were winning, but the game was already over.
Seriously look at that pass.
I said the Penguins only had eight shots in the first period, well they had eight shots in the first four minutes of the second period and finished with 19 shots overall in that period. Just a dominating period.
I know it seems like every night I talk about how good Evgeni Malkin is and to be honest I try to look for some different things in the game but it’s hard not to gravitate to him because he literally steals the show. Malkin took six shots and missed three and was all over the ice. He almost had a hat trick but missed the empty net as time expired. When I say missed the empty net I mean he hit the post. It really sucked. He is just on a roll that a lot of people don’t get to see very often. This just isn’t a one or two week thing, he is just taking over the league and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Kris Letang is starting to get into that groove. He led the Penguins with 23:11 of ice time and was all over the place again. One goal and two assists tonight and now has three goals and three assists in his last two games after five games without a point. Just doing everything right now and is really showing how good of an athlete he is. His skating ability is the best on the team and what you really can’t qualify in statistics is just his natural understanding for the game. His feel for the game is easy to see when you are watching him and he just seems to always be one step ahead of what is going on and that makes him so much more dangerous.
An interesting development tonight was the defensive pairing as the game was going on. With the struggles of Michalek and Paul Martin really struggling this year some people wanted to see the change and it was here tonight and it looked pretty good to me. Deryk Engellend paired with Martin and Matt NIskanen paired with Michalek to make two pretty good pairs. Dan Bylsma said it more had to do with the way the Lighting presented them with their three star players but I think it might be more seeing how things might work out down the line. I guess we will see as games go on but I would like to see these pairing a few more games to see if they can continue to play this well. You can’t really take anything from just one game so let it ride for a few more and see what happens.
I know I have harped on this in previous post game stuff but two of the most underrated players on the Penguins roster are Matt Niskanen and Chris Kunitz. Niskanen has been as solid as they come and really has come a long wan from last season where he looked lost a lot of the time where he is now one of the most reliable guys on the blue line. Really technically good and doesn’t make huge mistakes which is huge for a number five defensive guy. Chris Kunitz is really the glue for the first line and if you just think h e is a grinder then you are missing the picture. Just watch the goal he scored and then the precision pass he made to set up the Malkin goal. Just two beautiful plays. I remember when people thought it was crazy when the Penguins signed him to the $3.75M contract but it is paying off in a big way this year.
The Penguins now don’t play until Wednesday before and back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.