“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Wilson goal

Last night, the Penguins defeated the Red Wings at Consol Energy Center by a final score of 6-3.  It was a great game for the Penguins’ offense, and more importantly, their young guns came through.

Scott Wilson scored his first NHL goal, celebrating by immediately skating to Conor Sheary, who set him up with a beautiful pass in the slot, which Wilson fired 5-hole on Mrazek, giving the Penguins, at the time, a 4-2 lead.

Ben Lovejoy after the game was asked about how he felt the Wilkes-Barre guys were contributing to the Penguins’ success.  His response was easily the quote of the night for me: “They’re not Wilkes guys.  They’re Penguins now.  They’re Pittsburgh Penguins.”

Kind of reminds me of the Mighty Ducks movies…and in that regard, these guys are finally “Ducks,” and absolutely deserve to be wearing that sweater.  That being said, the Penguins have some bottom 6 guys injured, such as Fehr, Bonino, and Bennett that will be pretty much guaranteed a spot back in the lineup when they return.  So unfortunately, some of these guys will be demoted, but that does not take away from their impact on this team.

They bring energy, passion, speed…exactly what the Penguins need.  We’ll have to see how Rutherford handles that situation when the time comes.

Anyways, back to last night’s game.  The Penguins announced their lines before the game on their official twitter account, and nothing seemed different than the previous couple of games in regards to lines.  Then, Crosby’s line started the game, but he had a new right winger, whose name is Phil Kessel.  Sullivan, minutes before the game, broke news to Kessel that he was going to swap him with Hornqvist in the line combos, giving Phil his first legitimate chance with Sid on a line since October 22nd.

The good news: it worked.  For both guys may I add.

Ben Lovejoy, surprisingly enough, got the Penguins on the board early.  The Hornqvist-Cullen-Hagelin line was out on the ice, and Cullen carried the puck into the zone.  He took a shot, but it was blocked by a Detroit skater.  The puck bounced over towards the boards to the right of Mrazek, and Hornqvist beat 3 Detroit Red Wings to the puck, eluded 1 guy, and ripped a pass over to Lovejoy at the right point.  Lovejoy corralled the puck and put a quick wrist shot on goal that deflected off of the stick of Helm and went 5-hole on Mrazek.

Detroit would answer and tie the game at 1.  Athanasiou came flying into the zone right down the slot, and then dished the puck off to the right to Nyquist.  Athanasiou’s speed drew the Penguins toward him in the slot, and then Nyquist made a brilliant pass to Jurco who was flying down the slot wide open, and fired one past Fleury.

Later in the period, the Penguins were in the offensive zone battling behind the net for the puck.  Hornqvist would win the battle and get the puck up to Trevor Daley, who some have criticized in recent games for not shooting as much as he should.  Well, this time he did.  Hornqvist deflected the shot which was stoped by Mrazek, but Cullen buried the rebound to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead that they carried into the intermission.

Early in the 2nd, the Red Wings once again tied the game at 2.  Quincy carried the puck into the zone and dropped it off to Glendening at the blue line.  He fired a shot on net that was blocked, but the first man on the puck was Red Wings young superstar rookie Dylan Larkin who made a quick backhand move on Fleury to score.

Just 24 seconds later, Phil Kessel gave the Penguins the lead right back.  Crosby was being hounded by 4 Detroit defenders, including one of the best defensive forwards in that of Datsyuk, but Crosby was able to shed them all off and give a pass to Kessel who was flying into the zone on the right side.  He ripped his shot far side on Mrazek to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead…he wasn’t done.

Then it was Scott Wilson scoring his first NHL goal to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.  Although Wilson scored the goal, I give about 90% of the credit of that goal to Conor Sheary.  I mean this, he looked Crosby-esque on this shift.  He turned a 2 on 3 into a 2 on 1, then battled for the puck behind the net against 3 Red Wings, then somehow got control, and whipped a pass out to Wilson.  Easily the best shift I’ve seen Sheary play.  The Penguins would take that 4-2 lead into the 2nd intermission.

6:26 into the 3rd, Kessel would strike once again.  Kunitz passed the puck to Maatta at the point who put a quick shot in on Mrazek.  Kunitz deflected the shot, and Kessel pounced on the rebound.  The puck was on edge, and Kessel did not get all of his first shot, but he continued fighting and found his own rebound and buried it, giving the Penguins a 5-2 lead.  Mrazek was pulled as a result of the goal.

Zetterberg closed the gap a little bit late in the third.  He received a pass cross ice from Abdelkader and made a backhand deke right in front of Fleury and roofed it.  It was a pretty goal I admit, but the good news is that it only made the game 5-3.

Crosby would add an empty net goal to cap off the victory, and the Penguins would win 6-3, scoring 6 goals without superstar center Evgeni Malkin.  Now try and tell me that’s not impressive?!

  • Hornqvist had 2 assists and Kessel had 2 goals as a result of the new line change.  Until Geno comes back, expect Kessel to be with Sid and Hornqvist to be with Cullen.  Even when Geno comes back, there is a good chance Kessel stays with Sid if Kessel gets going in these next few games.
  • The Penguins are now 8-3-1 in their last 12 games under Mike Sullivan.  7 of those games are without Malkin, and almost all of them are without Fehr, Bonino, and Bennett.  Column on Sully late tonight/early tomorrow.
  • This marks the 3rd time in 8 games that the Penguins have scored 6 goals, which is a season high.
  • Fleury may have allowed 3 goals but I actually felt that he played excellent.  He made a couple of huge saves, and the goals he did allow were simply beautiful plays by Detroit that Fleury could not do much about.
  • The Penguins play back-to-back afternoon games at 12:30 against the Lightning at home on Saturday and then against Buffalo on the road on Sunday.  I would expect Fleury to start on Saturday against TBL and Zatkoff on Sunday, given that Zatkoff was in net against Buffalo earlier this season when he stopped 50 of 53 shots.

 

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“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Habs Spoil Pens’ Home Opener

pac

Well, after starting the season 0-1, it was no big deal.

Even after going 0-2, the Penguins had a chance to get a win at home tonight against the Canadiens.

Now the Penguins are 0-3 after dropping their season opener at home 3-2 to Montreal.  Yes, it is still very early in the season, but this is the first 0-3 start the Penguins have had since 2005, when they began the season with 9 straight losses in Sidney Crosby’s first year in the NHL.  The Penguins have 4 more home games in a row before going back on the road, and it would be big to win at least 3 of 4, but we will just have to see.

By the way, remember how I mentioned putting Kessel with Malkin and Hornqvist with Crosby?  There were only 2 Penguins’ assists tonight, and both came on the second goal by Letang.  Who had the assists?  Malkin and Kessel.  Not that this means anything significant, but I just want to put that out there…

Anyways, here is the recap and my impressions from tonight.

Recap

1st Period

Just under 6 minutes to go in the third, the Canadiens opened the scoring.  (Just a side note that the Habs are now 4-0 and have scored first in all 4 of their games, AND all 4 have been on the road.  Very impressive)  Andrei Markov flipped one into the Penguins zone right in the middle of 2 defensemen.  Forward Brendan Gallagher outworked the 2 Penguins defensemen to get to the puck and took control.  Gallagher spun around quickly and fed a pass to Max Pacioretty, who one-timed a hard low shot on Fleury that went in for his 3rd of the season.

Letang and Fleury talked for a few seconds after this goal was scored.  Letang and another Montreal player was right in front of the net, and my guess is that Fleury never saw that puck.  If he did, it was one he should have stopped.

Just under 5 minutes left in the first, the Habs were controlling the puck in the zone.  the puck came up to defenseman PK Subban who ripped a shot that dinged right off the crossbar and stayed out of the net.

Not long after, Crosby and Kunitz came down the other way in a 2 on 1.  Crosby did decide to shoot the puck, but Carey Price made the save.

After 1 period: Habs 1 Pens 0

2nd Period

With about 14:30 to go in the 2nd period, Montreal was once again possessing the puck in the zone.  A rebound came out to Montreal defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, but Beau Bennet stole the puck and took it the other way.  The Penguins had a 2 on 1, but Beau didn’t use his partner, as he sniped his 5th shot of the game right past Carey Price’s blocker to tie the game at 1.

The Penguins seemed to have a ton of momentum after this goal.  They were really buzzing.

But then the Penguins took a penalty for too many men on the ice.

This is one of those penalties that almost always comes back to bite, and it did once again tonight.  Montreal went on the power play and were passing the puck around the zone.  After around 30 seconds of passing and skating with the puck, Pacioretty skated away from the boards towards the middle of the ice and scored on a quick and hard wrist shot that beat Fleury on his glove side.

However, not long after the Canadiens retook the lead, Letang tied the game up once again.  Kessel brought the puck into the zone and put a shot on goal that was sticked away by Price.  Malkin found the rebound and fed the puck behind the net for Kessel.  He then attempted to feed a pass to Letang that was tipped by a Montreal player.  The pass lost some gas, but it did get to Letang, who fired a knuckling puck past the glove of Carey Price.

After 2 periods: Habs 2 Pens 2

3rd Period

The Canadiens came out in the 3rd period ready to play, and it showed early.

Just over 4 minutes in, the Canadiens forced a turnover in the Penguins’ offensive zone.  It is noted, however, that Plotnikov was severely interfered with, but the referee made no call on the play.  The Canadiens went the other way with the puck, and Penguin killer Tomas Fleischmann shot the puck past Fleury on his blocker side.

Although the goal should have never happened (since there should have been an interference penalty drawn by Plotnikov), Fleury should have made this stop.  He made some great saves throughout this game, but he also let in some bad ones, and this was one of them.

With just over 2 minutes to go in the game, the Penguins put out Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel in the same line.  The Penguins had the puck in the zone.  Letang one-timed a shot on goal that was stopped by Price.  The rebound squirted out to Malkin who fed a perfect pass to Crosby.  Crosby one-timed the puck and got all of it, but he did not elevate the puck, and Price’s pad got over to make the save.

This was one of the Penguins’ best chances all game, and had Crosby got about a foot of elevation on the shot, it was going in.

Final Score: Habs 3 Pens 2

Impressions

3rd Line

I’m not even going to talk too much about this.

The 3rd line of Plotnikov, Bonino, and Bennett was outstanding tonight.  It was easily the Penguins most consistent line, and it had a ton of scoring opportunities.

Seeing production from this line is a bright spot for the Penguins, but Crosby and Malkin need to start stepping up, espeically Sid who still does not have a point.

Also, I want to note that Plotnikov looked far more comfortable on this line than he did on Malkin’s line.  I think Plotnikov feels less pressure on the 3rd line and is able to play his game.

Beau Bennett

Bennett, by far, was my favorite Penguin on the ice tonight.

Not only did he have a goal tonight, but he just looked dominant.

I mentioned that I think he can have a breakout season even if its in a 3rd or 4th line role.  If Bennett stays healthy, he is going to be a big part of this team going forward.  That is, if they can start stringing together some wins!

Transition Game

This is where my real hockey analysis comes into play.

Mike Johnston puts a heavy emphasis on moving the puck as a team, and sticking together.  Although I see that at time, I do not see it all the time.  I do not see it a lot of the time actually.

Most of the time, a Penguins defenseman will have the puck in the defensive zone, and all 3 forwards will be skating right around the other teams blue line. Now, unless a long stretch pass gets through, this will not work.  Additionally, you need speed getting into the zone.  By having forwards stand near the blue line, they have no time to gain speed going into the zone, so if a defenseman were to dump the puck into the offensive zone, none of the Penguins forwards will recover it since they have no speed going into the zone.

Anyways, I’ll leave it at that for tonight.  As always, thanks to those who read my blog.  I appreciate your support!

I’ll be posting another article on Thursday night after the Penguins take on the Ottawa Senators at home.

If the Penguins are 0-4 after that one, the article probably won’t be pretty…

Habs Spoil Pens’ Home Opener