Coming into the game I was really uncertain about where the Penguins were as a team. They have been largely outplayed by a few teams that they should have at least hung with and they have a few wins against a team that was supposed to be the top team in the league. I am not sure I totally get a feeling on what this team is as we are only eight games into the season but the Penguins took a team that hadn't lost in regulation all season behind the woodshed and put on a complete beating today on home ice to the tune of a 5-1 victory. To be totally honest the score doesn't even really dictate really how well the Penguins played.
The defense, and Marc Andre Fleury, were just really outstanding today. The Devils managed only 16 shots during the game and much like the last game against the Rangers there really just wasn't a ton of quality scoring chances. When there were MAF was there to make the play and if there was a bad rebound (there were a couple) the defense did an outstanding job of tying up the Devils sticks and clearing the puck out of harms way. After the year that Paul Martin had last year it is really great to see him playing like the player that Ray Shero paid for at the deadline a few years ago and he is playing on another level right now.
Beside the defensive side of the puck this game was taken over by Sidney Crosby. He had by far his best game of the season and he put the team on his back when they needed a spark offensively (in the worst way) and took over the game. He finished with a goal and a pair of assists and won 14-of-21 faceoffs. The goal he scored was an absolute snipe job where he beat Marty Brodeur from the right side dot over the glove side. It was a sick shot. He followed that up with an unreal pass from behind the net to Robert Bortuzzo at the point that set up his first career goal. There wasn't too much not to like with Crosby tonight except a late came encounter with Anton Volchenkov. After Volchenkov leveled Zach Boychuk and the whistle blew Crosby came over and sort of tripped Volchenkov down to the ice then shoved him which earned him a penalty. To be honest it wasn't something that Crosby will be doing and it was pretty uncalled for and dumb. All it will do is fuel the "Crosby is a whiny child and dives and whatever" crowd that still seems to think he is the only player in the NHL that says something to officials but whatever. If the way Crosby played today is going to continue this team is going to be a lot better offensively.
At the beginning of the game I had said how I though that even though I felt Boychuk should be in the game that Dustin Jeffrey should have been in the lineup somewhere a lot of people tweeted at me that Jeffrey should have been in for Kunitz since he was still dealing with a cold. I disagreed with that. Even though Kunitz has been pretty terrible this year so far he should be in the lineup because of his skill set and what he brings to the team. Well Kunitz helped make me look smart (which is hard to do) by having a three point game and playing easily his best game of the season. You could tell by the close up shots of him that he was still pretty sick but he played a really nice game and that just gives that first line a whole new feel when both Crobsy and Kunitz are rolling. Granted this was only one game out of Kunitz but he wasn't going to play that bad all season as he did in the first seven games.
As you know from reading here so far in the short season so far I am a pretty big fan of Bortuzzo overall. I was pretty surprised that it took him to long to latch on to a spot to get on the ice but he has got to play in the last two games and has been really good. There is no reason that Ben Lovejoy should be playing over him. Lovejoy is by all accounts a really great guy but Bortuzzo is pretty solid for that bottom defensive pair and he also helped his cause with his first NHL goal today. Best part about it was how excited he looked as he went back to the bench after the goal to give fist pounds to all his teammates. Really awesome.
What was pretty interesting about the game is what Dan Bylsma did with the lines. As you have probably noticed over the past couple games Disco hasn't really had a set lineup for more than a shift or two but today he was doing a lot of double shifting of Evgeni Malkin and Crosby. Crosby entered the game only getting about 20-21 minutes of ice time a night and Malkin wasn't even averaging 20 minutes of ice time a night. Not really all that many minutes for each but even with getting double shifted neither Crosby (19:56) or Malkin (17:29) had 20 minutes of ice time today. Also Bylsma did a nice job of getting some minutes off of Letang (23:20), Martin (24:50), and Orpik (22:25). Much more complete effort from everyone today.
It should noted that the Penguins dominated play today and with that also dominated in the faceoff circle. They won 34-of-55 faceoffs and every player that took more than one faceoff was over 50%. Getting those extra possessions are huge, especially on the penalty kill and on the power play. While the power play didn't score in three chances they did a much better job of winning the offensive zone draws and gave themselves a chance to set up the power play without having to carry the puck into the zone which they have struggled with so far.
In any fashion it was the second really good effort from the Penguins as they are set to play five more games in the next eight days. Tomorrow they are in Washington to play the Capitols at 1 p.m. The goaltending tandem will be in full bloom as Tomas Vokoun will get the start. As I said a few nights ago while some don't like the tandem it seems to be working well as Fleury had a really nice game today.