The more things change and the more they stay the same for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang come back? No problem. Juggle lines for much of the first half of the game? No problem. Tinker with new power play formations? No problem. The Penguins took it all in stride and came out of MSG with a 5-2 win despite not playing on of their best games of the season.
The Penguins got on the board quick with a Matt Cooke goal on a really weird play where Tyler Kennedy did just a hell of a job of digging the puck out of the corner and finding Cooke in front. Cooke took the puck and it got ticked up in the air, goes off a Rangers body and into the net. Lucky bounce but I will take that every day of the week.
The Rangers tied it up when there was a mad scrum in front of Marc Andre Fleury and Carl Hagelin found the back of the net. Out of the first period intermission the Penguins really put the pedal to the medal and scored a pair of goals in the first two and a half minutes. First it was Evgeni Malkin who put back his own rebound after James Neal worked the boards and got the puck to Malkin in front of the net. Cooke then buried a pass from Kennedy for the first two goal lead of the night. Marian Gaborik was given a gift when the Penguins basically left him alone in the slot and he beat MAF. Not really much MAF can do as Gaborik is one of the best snipers in the game.
The Penguins put the game away in the third. They retook the two goal lead just over three minutes into the third period when Sidney Crosby set up Chris Kunitz just after a Penguins power play expired to give Crosby his first point of the return and the Penguins basically took all the air out of MSG after that. Pascal Dupuis put the final nail in the coffin with a goal from Letang and Paul Martin with just 12 minutes left in the game.
-This was a pretty nice “statement” win for the Penguins. I put statement in quotations because the Rangers were playing without Ryan Callahan, Mike Del Zotto and Hendrik Lindqvist. I know you will probably say that the Penguins were able to succeed without much of their top talent through the past year plus but it isn’t like we beat the full lineup of the top team in the East. Hell, I don’t care, a win is a win and the Penguins are rolling right now and anytime you win a game from a top-level team like the Rangers, no matter who is missing, that says a lot.
-That is 10 wins in a row for the Penguins. 10. Pretty nice numbers. It doesn’t get any easier as the Penguins are going to battle the Devils (who they can’t seem to beat) and the Flyers (rivals) this weekend. This win also put the Penguins within four points of the top spot in the East with still one game in hand against the Rangers. Don’t forget that these two teams still have a game against each other. The Penguins have the second hardest schedule left in the league (thank you ROOT Sports) so it’s not going to be easy, but a few weeks ago this was a pipe dream.
-Another nice tidbit from tonight’s game is that this was the first game of the year where the Rangers gave up five goals. You might say it was only Marty Biron but he has been very solid this season. Not tonight. The Penguins made him look like the mediocre goaltender he was when he was in Philadelphia.
-Crosby skated only 16 minutes but I think he played a pretty good game. It didn’t look like he was timid to get into the corners or to jump up into the play but I think it was pretty easy to see he wasn’t really in a flow. He was being bounced around with a ton of different line options and overall there was just some rust there. I didn’t expect to see him do what he did against the Islanders because, well, let’s be honest that was the Islanders.
-Kris Letang logged some big minutes tonight and led all Penguins skaters with over 24 minutes of action. He contributed an assist on the night and was on the ice for all five of the Penguins goals. He looked a little rusty at times but I have no worries going forward about him being dominant.
-Remember when Matt Cooke was going through his suspension and a ton of people were talking about how he wouldn’t be a useful player because he didn’t have any skill and he was just a goon? Yea, about that. Cooke found the back of the net twice tonight and was named the first star. That is 14 goals on the season and all while only taking 30 penalty minutes. Cooke really struggled at the beginning of the season for long stretches but the last few weeks he has been playing some great hockey.
-The power play was a little rusty with the new look. The Penguins decided to throw Sidney Crosby on the point instead of Steve Sullivan and they looked pretty good passing the puck around but you could really tell (at least I could) that all the players on the ice didn’t really know where they needed/wanted to be. I have a feeling there is going to need to be a honeymoon period to get things in order but I think this could work. I would probably rather prefer two power play units but I can see where this would work.
-Marc Andre Fleury made some outstanding saves tonight. He earned his 38th win of the season and made 29 saves for the win. He didn’t look particularly comfortable early in the game but the third period he was locked in. He made a ridiculous stick save with just a few minutes left in the game that might be one of his three best of the year. The other was when he was stacking the pads on a sramble and completely robbed someone with the glove. He is just locked in. I would like to see Brad Thiessen get in a game this weekend but hard not to play Fleury with how he looks.
-Like I said in the open I really don’t think the Penguins played a great hockey game. There were large portions of the game where the Penguins were turning the puck over and making some bad decisions but despite that they were able to win a game pretty handedly. The ice was pretty choppy all night and the puck was on edge all night so I am sure some things can be attributed to that but it was still a pretty sloppy performance overall. I thought the third period was far and away the best period of the night for the Penguins but getting a 60 minute game together would be great.
Overall just a really solid win for the Penguins.