“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

Fehr Shines in Debut, Pens Blank Leafs

bernier

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.

Zero.

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.

Recap

First Period

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

Second Period

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

Third Period

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

Impressions

Eric Fehr

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.

MAF

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.

Fehr Shines in Debut, Pens Blank Leafs