The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lighting – the NHL’ two highest-scoring teams – met for the first time this season Sunday night at CONSOL Energy Center. And it was the Penguins who came away with a 5-3 win over the Lightning.
Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist while Paul Martin and Matt Cooke each finished with a goal and an assist. Penguins rookie Beau Bennett scored his first NHL goal and point, which stood as the game-winner.
Steven Stamkos also had two goals and an assist while Eric Brewer and Cory Conacher also scored for the Lightning.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves, including a breakaway stop on Nate Thompson in the second period. Anders Lindback allowed three goals on 10 shots in the first period, and Mathieu Garon replaced him to start the second. He finished with 10 saves.
Fleury has now won five straight games and is 8-1 in his last nine starts.
“It’s good," Fleury replied modestly when asked about his season. "As long as we win we get two points and everybody’s happy. I don’t think I’ve been changing things, keep working with the usual. The team’s been playing great in front so that’s a big help.”
With 7:40 minutes remaining in the second period, the videoboard feed cut to Beau Bennett sitting on the bench. The rookie forward turned red and a huge smile crept onto his face.
|Bennett's milestone puck
That’s because the PA announcer had just told the roaring crowd at CONSOL Energy Center that Bennett had just scored his first NHL goal, which would turn out to be the game-winner.
“It felt pretty good, definitely," said California native Bennett, nicknamed "Sunshine" by his teammates, after the game. "Getting a big win with it as well goes hand in hand. It felt awesome and hopefully just stay after it and keep this win streak going.”
The goal came on a 5-on-3 power play for the Penguins, which Bennett had helped create by drawing an interference call on Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer. With 1:18 left on Brewer’s penalty, Sami Salo tripped Chris Kunitz off the faceoff and the Penguins had the two-man advantage.
Bennett practiced working the 5-on-3 with Crosby, Letang, Kunitz and Neal this morning, and it paid off. After Letang kept the play alive by sprinting over to the opposite boards to hold the blue line, Crosby sent a gorgeous saucer pass over to Bennett at the side of the cage. He slammed it home before Garon could slide over in time.
“Just trying to get it on net," Bennett explained. "I wasn’t trying to blow it through the net or anything, just trying to get it on net. Worse comes to worse and there’s a rebound we can set up again.”
Crosby said that during morning skate, Bennett's ability to find open areas around the net was apparent while practicing the two-man advantage.
"This morning when he was there he seemed to have a pretty good knack for finding the open lane," Crosby said. "Tanger made an unbelievable play to get that puck and get it over. You know Beau knows where to go over there. He’s a pretty gifted player. He’s got a lot of talent. he found the open lane."
(And yes, Crosby unknowingly dropped a "Beau Knows" reference. When ROOT SPORTS' Dan Potash called him out on it, Crosby cracked up and laughed, "He does (know). That’s a great one.")
Bennett’s goal is also his first NHL point in five games with the Penguins since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Feb. 14.
While Bennett may be skilled at taking care of the puck on the ice, it's a different story once he's off the ice.
“Probably send it home," he smiled when asked what he would do with the milestone puck. "I’m not good with stuff like that, I’d probably lose it if I kept it. So, my mom will probably put it somewhere in a safe place and keep it for a long time.”
WATCH: Bennett receives his first NHL goal puck after the Penguins 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay...
Despite his three-point effort on Sunday evening – two goals and an assist – Sidney Crosby wasn’t able to overtake Steven Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead, as the Lightning forward also had a three-point night.
Crosby was, however, able to seize third place on the Penguins’ all-time scoring list, as he now has 637 career points (232G-405A). Only Mario Lemieux (1,723) and Jaromir Jagr (1,079) have more.
What's scary is that Crosby still expects more from himself.
"I think for everyone, we’re all trying to improve," he said when asked if he's still working towards his best. "I think for me personally, yeah. I think there’s still points where timing or pucks bounce on you and you just want to get sharp. I think if the work ethic is there and the effort’s there, usually that stuff will kind of come."
The buzz coming out of Pittsburgh this morning was how Crosby and James Neal would perform on a line together, as they got the chance to play alongside each other tonight with Evgeni Malkin ruled out for the contest (more on that below).
Entering the game, Crosby and Neal had only played together for a handful of shifts. They’ve been watching each other play for a long time now, but hadn’t come anywhere close to spending an entire game on a line during 5-on-5 play.
“Hopefully we can get off to a good start and build some quick chemistry,” Neal said this morning.
They certainly did that on Sunday, as their line with Chris Kunitz looked fantastic.
Neal’s developed into an elite scorer because of his ability to find open spaces and seams on the ice. Crosby said it would be key for him to look for Neal in those areas, and he found him there on a few occasions. With Kunitz crashing and banging on the boards and around the net, their line was able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone and keep buzzing around the net.
"We started pretty good," Crosby said. "Had good puck possession. They’re a dangerous team, so we wanted to make sure we played in their end as much as we could. They don’t need much room in order to create chances."
Although Crosby would like to see them get to the blue paint even more moving forward.
"I don’t think there’s really much," Crosby said when asked what adjustments need to be made. "I know where to look for (Neal). He’s going to be in that slot area a lot. I think if anything, we can probably get to the net a little bit more. I think that’s just something that everyone is trying to develop. So many teams collapse in the net so much you’ve got to find a way to get loose pucks around there. We’ll try to continue to do that."
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin suffered short-term memory loss and has been diagnosed with a concussion as a result of falling hard into the end boards Friday in a game against the Florida Panthers.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma gave the update Sunday evening.
“After the hit Evgeni suffered some short-term memory loss and therefore was diagnosed with a concussion,” Bylsma said. “He’s had no other symptoms. He’s feeling fine and his memory is returning.”
Malkin will not accompany the team on their upcoming three-game road trip to Florida, Carolina and Montreal.
Bylsma noted earlier Sunday that Malkin has not suffered any headaches or disorientation at any point after the hit.
Malkin was skating with speed toward the Florida goal when he collided with Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Malkin fell onto his back and slid hard into the end boards. He remained on the ice for a while, being attended to by head athletic trainer Chris Stewart. Malkin got to his feet and skated of his own accord to the bench and headed to the locker room.
With Malkin out, this is how the lines looked for the first two periods:
In the third period with the Penguins holding a lead, Cooke and Bennett switched places. Bylsma said we can expect to see those lines continuing to flip-flop depending on the situation.
"As the game went on I switched Cooke to Sutter and Dupuis as more of a checking situation, especially here at home in the second half of the game," Bylsma said. "I thought that worked out well for those situations, especially with a team that has two really elite guys on two different lines. I thought the Crosby line did a really good job away from the puck in those defensive situations as well. I think we’ll continue to see that. I thought the line of Dustin Jeffrey, Beau Bennett and Tyler Kennedy played well in that second half of the game.
"We’re going to be going on the road here. We may see those two lines flip flop at times depending on the situation in the game. We may see Beau with Sutter and Dupuis in more offensive situations. Obviously we lose a high-end offensive superstar in the league when Evgeni is not in there, but I think even the line of Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass and Craig Adams can be used in a checking role and be effective in that role against other teams’ top lines. Thought that worked out pretty well in this game today and that’s something going on the road, you’ll see more of."
MARTIN STAYS STRONG
Man, what a night for Paul Martin.
The Penguins defenseman continues to be absolutely invaluable, doing it all for his team. On Sunday he had a goal and an assist, giving him 11 points (2G-9A) over his last 11 games.
Overall, Martin has 14 points (3G-11A) in 18 games, which places him third in scoring among NHL defensemen. It’s nearly half of the output he totaled last season – 27 points (2G-25A) through 73 games
Right now, Martin is producing points while anchoring Pittsburgh’s shutdown D pairing with Brooks Orpik and skating big minutes in every situation – first power-play unit and first over the boards on the penalty kill. Tonight, it was young superstar Stamkos that Martin was assigned to cover.
And what’s notable about what Martin’s doing are just the smarts, skills and overall confidence behind the plays he is making.
Like on his first goal, Martin didn't hesitate to join the rush after hitting a Lightning player on the boards in his own zone that forced a turnover by Matt Cooke and started the transition. He trailed Cooke up the ice and the two made a few back-and-forth passes before Martin found himself with a wide-open net.
“(Cooke) made a great play breaking it up and then we just followed up the play," Martin said. "He was able to put the puck on the net and it came right to me, so I was able to put it in.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo