The Penguins played arguably their best game last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yeah, the Maple Leafs are not that good this year, but the Penguins performed how they should perform against a team like Toronto.
The Penguins won this game 4-0 on Halloween night. What was “spooky” is that Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Letang (arguably the Penguins’ top 4 skaters) combined for 0 points last night.
But the Penguins still won the game 4-0 due to their forward depth, which was finally on display last night. Finally, that whole “playing four scoring lines” really payed off. 3 of the Penguins’ 4 goals came from bottom 6 forwards, something the Penguins rarely saw last year.
The Penguins struggled last year when the star players were shut down. It has been a problem for the Penguins, especially in the playoffs during the past few years. They really do play their best when their star players produce, and that does not take rocket science to figure that out.
But the Penguins didn’t need star power last night.
This game really gave me some newly found hope for the Penguins. I would imagine that the star players such as Malkin and Crosby feel a weight lifted off their shoulders when they do not feel the absolute need to produce. There is a ton of pressure on these guys in Pittsburgh, but knowing the Penguins have the potential to score 4 goals without getting any production from their top guys is astounding.
I think this will result in them playing a looser, more relaxed game. Sometimes when you feel too much pressure, you grip your stick a little too tight and try too hard to make things happen. I think a game like this really has to be a confidence booster for the Penguins, and will take some of the heat off of the star players.
I am sure many of you were busy tick-or-treating, handing out candy, at Halloween parties, or maybe even a combination of the 3. For that reason, I’ll go into a little more detail on the recap, and as always, I’ll give my impressions.
About 9 minutes into the period, Rich Clune absolutely hammered Ben Lovejoy into the boards. Lovejoy was a bit shaken up but ended up to be okay. Eric Fehr pounced on the loose puck after Lovejoy lost it from the hit, and gave it up to Plotnikov who one-touched a pass to Matt Cullen. Cullen came flying down the right side of the ice, but was denied by Bernier.
With about 6:30 left in the 1st period, the Penguins were about 20 seconds into a power play, but it was the Leafs that had a great shorthanded chance that was denied by Marc-Andre Fleury. Grabner, one of the fastest NHL skaters, found himself behind the Penguins defense, but was denied by Fleury.
Seconds following the save, Perron controlled the puck and skated it into the offensive zone. Perron slid a pass to his right that was received by Bennett, who gave it right back to Perron on a give and go play. Perron fired a shot from a wide angle that was stopped by Bernier.
Bernier thought he had the puck between his pads, but the puck snuck through and was sitting just behind his pads right on the goal line. Luckily, Chris Kunitz drove the net on the Perron shot and noticed that the puck squirted through Bernier’s pads and knocked it into an empty cage.
Pens 1 Leafs 0
The Penguins spent the last 4 minutes of the first on a power play, after Rich Clune took a boarding major against Rob Scuderi. The second power play unit came through earlier in the game, but the Penguins came up empty on this one, and did not have a ton off good opportunities. They really could have opened the game up early, but were not able to cash in.
After the first: Pens 1 Leafs 0
About a minute into the period, Kris Letang had possession of the puck and threw a pass across the ice that was eventually received by Bennett, who worked hard to beat a man to the puck. Bennett knocked a pass backwards to Bonino, who fed a quick pass over to Kunitz who was streaking down the right side. It was a great passing play by the Penguins, but Bernier said no.
2:22 into the second period, the Maple Leafs had a chance to stop the bleeding a with a power play opportunity. Keep in mind the Leafs were only down 1-0 at this point. The Leafs won the offensive zone draw, but Matt Cullen intercepted the pass that was intended for the point man Gardiner. Cullen fed a pass to Fehr, and Fehr did the rest.
He skated the puck into the offensive zone on the left side, and it appeared as though he tried to pass the puck to Matt Cullen, the pass was broken up by a Maple Leafs defenseman, but the puck hit the left pad of Bernier and came back out in front of him. Fehr crashed the net, got his own rebound, and skated across the goal mouth to the right, out-waiting Bernier, and fired it home. Fehr scores in his Penguins debut, and makes it a shorthanded one at that.
Pens 2 Leafs 0
Later on the same Maple Leafs power play, Nazem Kadri fed a puck down low to James Van Riemsdyk who mad a twirling move to the front of the net. JVR tried to stuff it in, but Fleury kept it out.
With just over 6 minutes to go, Evgeni Malkin received a pass from Kris Letang. Malkin fed a pass to the middle to David Perron, who found Phil Kessel flying down the left wing. Kessel put a hard shot on Bernier, but Bernier got just enough of it, and the puck went wide.
Half way through the period, the Leafs were in the Penguins zone. Eric Fehr raced to a loose puck and chipped it out to the blue line. Defenseman Martin Marincin of the Leafs could not handle the bouncing puck, and Matt Cullen took advantage and poked it ahead. This turned into a 2 on 1 with Cullen and Plotnikov, but Cullen needed no help and beat Bernier with a great wrist shot and registered his first in a Penguins uniform.
Pens 3 Leafs 0
After the second: Pens 3 Leafs 0
Just over 4 minutes into the period, the Leafs dumped the puck into the zone and it was played behind the net by Fleury. Dumoulin came behind the net to retrieve the puck from the Penguins goaltender and skated the puck up the ice. Dumoulin skated just past center ice before firing a long shot towards Bernier. The puck took a bounce off the boards after it missed the net to the left of Bernier and came right out in front. Patric Hornqvist with a head full of steam got to the puck first, and one timed a quick shot past Bernier. His 2nd in as many games.
Pens 4 Leafs 0
13 minutes into the period, the Penguins were buzzing in the Maple Leafs zone. Letang fed a pass to the point to Malkin, who faked a slap shot and slid a pass over to Ben Lovejoy who one-timed a shot on net. There was a ton of traffic in front of the net, but the Penguins lead remained at 4.
After all was said and done, Fleury got his 40th shutout of his career, made 21 saves, and also recorded an assist on the Hornqvist goal.
Final Score: Pens 4 Leafs 0
Wow. Just wow. Eric Fehr may have been the best Penguins acquisition this year besides Phil Kessel, but the acquisition did not get much attention because of the Kessel trade.
That being said, Eric Fehr played a terrific game for the Penguins last night. He led the team with 2 points (1G – 1A – 2P), scored a shorthanded goal, and looked great wearing the black and gold.
Fehr is a big guy that can kill penalties, hit, and even score some goals in the process. He is a great all around player and the Penguins have him inked for 2 more years after this.
I do not expect Fehr to put up 2 points a game by any means, but look for him to make a huge impact to the Penguins’ forward depth as the season progresses.
Bottom 6 Production
The Penguins’ bottom 6 forwards came though in a huge way in this game. The top 2 lines were shut down for the most part, but when it came down to it, the Penguins found scoring from their depth guys.
All I have to say is that a game like this would NEVER have happened last year. Unless Sutter/Downie had all 3 goals, because they were basically the only respectable offensive bottom 6 guys last year.
If you disagree, then you think that Goc, Adams, Lapierre, and Spaling could score 3 goals in a game. Ha.
The team MVP from last season is at it again. Fleury leads all starting NHL goaltenders with a 1.71 goals against average, ranks 2nd among starters with a .942 save percentage (only trails Lundqvist who has a .943), and is tied for first in the NHL in shutouts.
If he keeps up what he is doing now, he will be the team MVP once more, and may even be a Vezina candidate (this is a long shot, but as of right now, Fleury’s name could definitely be argued)
Thanks to all who continue to read, as always. This week I will do another Q and A session on Tuesday, so make sure you get your questions in by Monday, because the article will go up Tuesday at midnight.
Also, follow me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press. Looking forward to your questions!
The Penguins’ next game is Wednesday against Brandon Sutter and the Vancouver Canucks. The game is in Vancouver so it will be a late one with a puck drop at 10 pm, but as always, I will be writing an article afterwards with a recap and impressions in case you cannot stay up to watch.