The Jets took a quick 2-0 in the first eight minutes of the game and really started to carry the play. The Penguins played pretty good hockey for the first four minutes but the Jets started to expose them through the neutral zone and were getting chance after chance. They buried two of them and you just had the feeling it might be one of those games, like New Jersey, where nothing was going to go right. Well if you had that feeling then you were dead wrong.
The Jets wanted to play run and gun with the Penguins and they got burned. Badly. The Penguins tied the game before the intermission with two snipe shots from Dustin Jeffrey and James Neal. Both shots were put into small windows and they were really pretty goals.
The Penguins went on to score six more goals in the game while the Jets were only able to score three more and that was the difference in the game (obviously). In a game with 13 goals combined it was interesting that only one player recorded more than one goal and that was Kris Letang.
Just because there was only one player with more than one goal doesn’t mean that there were far and away superstars today. Of course the first star of the game, running away, would be Evgeni Malkin. All he did was tally his third five point game of the season with four primary assists and a goal of his own on a sick semi-breakaway.
Chris Kunitz also chipped in four points with a goal and three assists and three other Penguins had multiple point days including Letang who added an assist with his two goals.
With the offensive explosion there were also some obvious downsides to this game. The defense was pretty brutal all day and Marc Andre Fleury was pretty vulnerable all day. MAF only faced 25 shots but let five of them behind him. Although a few of them were deflections that he really had no chance at there were a few goals that he should have been able to stop. He was not getting much help at all as the defense was routinely out of position and things just really looked confusing when watching the game defensively. These games are going to happen it is just good the offense stepped up in a big way to overcome the piss poor day the defense had.
The one guy who was really on his game, all around, was Letang. Some players come back from a concussion and have a tough time getting back into the flow because they are afraid to get banged up again, but Letang is not one of those players. He was maybe the exception in the defensive zone as he was laying some lumber and routinely was able to get the puck out of the zone clean. He seems to know exactly the right time to jump into the offensive zone and that was no more evident than on his first goal when the Malkin line was out there for a long time and before the change they were able to get a rush and Letang was able to jump into the offensive zone and score a goal.
What a player.
Jordan Staal was back today and made it known he is back. He picked up a goal to make the score 7-4. That was his 16th goal of the season. Imagine if he had not got hurt what kind of production he might have. He skated for only 15:16 and only won three of his 10 faceoff chances but that is expected as this was his first playing time in over a month. He will only get better as time goes on and you could tell that him, Cooke and Sullivan were having some good ice time together.
The Malkin/Neal/Kunitz line is just out of control right now. I was just going to talk about Malkin himself but I think we all know that he is the best player in the league. He now owns a five point lead in the scoring race with 67 points and pretty much is doing whatever he wants but this whole line has just been playing on another level. Today they combined for three goals and eight assists and any time the Penguins were a little down they were on the ice making something happen. Neal’s goal was an absolute laser on the designed faceoff where Neal pretty much one times a puck off a Malkin win. Teams know it is coming and you just can’t stop it. Goaltenders have no chance.
Talking about Malkin a little bit on his own there are a few things that fly under the radar that nobody really talks about. Two of those things this season that are amazingly apparent is Malkin’s success in the faceoff circle and he has been able to play more discipline and has been able to stay on the ice more and not take terrible penalties. Today Malkin won 12-of-22 faceoffs. He has been doing this a lot more lately and before today he was something like 75% from the dot in the last three games. Just so much better than previous years.
There have been seven 5-point games in the NHL this season. Evgeni Malkin has three of them.— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) February 11, 2012
The Penguins also got some much needed secondary scoring today from Richard Park and Dustin Jeffrey. I talked about the Jeffrey goal a little bit above and Park netter the game winning goal (the sixth goal) which also was his 100th career NHL goal. Big congrats to Richard Park on that.
The big turning point during the game might have been in the right before the James Neal goal. The Staal line was on the ice and were giving the Jets fits in their own end. Shot after shot were on the net and when the Jets were finally able to get the puck they iced it. The Penguins held the puck for about a minute and a half and that is when Malkin won the faceoff and Neal scored. A dead tired unit was on the ice and while it was Neal that scored the goal the whole Staal line was responsible for it. It flipped the game and pretty much taken over by the Penguins. After that they asserted their dominance and while the Jets kept it close it never felt like they had a chance.
It was a big win for the Penguins with the Flyers already losing to the Rangers and the Devils losing to the Panthers, both in regulation. That means that the Penguins are now only two points back of Philadelphia with the same amount of games played for the second spot in the Atlantic. Good to see the Penguins back into the thick of the hunt.
A quick turnaround tomorrow when they play the Lightning tomorrow in a rare Sunday night contest at the CONSOL.