Even though the Pens entered Friday’s game against Nashville with just three goals in their last three games, all losses (and hadn’t scored at even strength since Nov. 2 against Columbus), Sidney Crosby said this morning that they had to stay patient. Because they were getting chances; they just weren’t going in.
“You have to trust that if you do the right things the puck is going to go in the net,” he said. “It's a long season. These things happen. But it all seems to even out. So if you just stick with it and make sure you're getting those chances and you're not forcing them, they'll eventually go in.”
The captain was right. Tonight, those chances went in.
After allowing the Preds to score first, the Pens exploded for four unanswered goals against the Predators in the first 40 minutes – causing rookie netminder Marek Mazanec to be replaced by Carter Hutton for the third. The Pens locked it down in the final period, allowing just three shots and 18 total in the game to finish with a 4-1 win – emphatically snapping their three-game losing streak.
“The last couple games we thought we've been playing alright and doing things where we thought we deserved to win games, but couldn't find the back of the net,” said center Brandon Sutter, who had a goal and an assist. “Tonight to get a few goals, especially after they get the early one and to play well the rest of the first period, it is a huge boost for us and it's nice to get the losing streak over with. Hopefully we can look forward now.”
Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and Kris Letang also scored for the Pens. Marc-Andre Fleury got the win in goal.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
It’s funny how hockey works.
During the Pens’ recent slump, they had terrific starts but somehow ended up being down going into the first intermissions. Then tonight, even though the Pens had a sluggish start marked by turnovers, they finished the first period with a 2-1 lead off goals from Dupuis and Neal.
The Preds created a lot of offensive zone time early and struck just 2:28 minutes into the game, which could have been devastating considering the way the Pens had been playing paired with their slumping offense. But the Pens woke up, were rejuvenated by Dupuis’ goal – which snapped a 12-game scoreless streak for the winger – 10 minutes later and never looked back.
“We didn't come out with the start we wanted. They came hard,” Neal said. “They had a good forecheck on us and we were back on our heels, but ‘Duper’ had a big one on the faceoff play there and we had a good one on the power play. I thought we started to take over the game from then on.”
NEAL GETS FIRST
For those of us watching from the media level, it looked like Evgeni Malkin had broken his 11-game goalless streak during a first-period power play.
Malkin was stationed at the center point with Crosby working the wall to his right. He passed over to Malkin, who decided to wind up and take the shot. As the play happened, it looked like the puck flew directly into the back of the net. But after watching the replay, Malkin’s linemate Neal – standing at the top of the crease with Chris Kunitz – actually tipped it past Mazanec. The goal was Neal’s first of the season, scored in his third game back from a lower-body injury suffered in the opener. And it was a big one, as it gave the Pens a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission.
Neal nearly added another early in the second period when when Malkin slid a pass to the front of the net right to a wide-open Neal, who looked like he had a sure goal with Mazanec down. But somehow the netminder managed to glove his shot while falling forward.
“’Geno’ made a great play on the power play, just shooting for my stick,” said Neal, who seems to have completely rekindled his chemistry with Malkin the way they were teaming up to make plays. “Ever since I've got back, I feel pretty good. Geno had some great chances tonight and made some great passes. The one the goalie robbed me on, I thought it was a goal but had some good looks."
Though Neal was robbed of a second, he'll certainly take the assist he earned on Pittsburgh's third goal of the game scored by Letang shortly after. Neal cycled it behind the net to Malkin, who found a pinching Letang at the side of the cage. He squeaked a bad-angle shot through Mazanec.
Malkin may not have put a tally in the goal column, but he added a couple of marks in the assist column after setting up Neal and Letang’s goals. That extended his assist streak to six games, which is tied for the second longest in the NHL this season after St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk (7 games). Malkin has eight helpers total in that span.
Defenseman Paul Martin played on Friday after missing the Pens’ previous two games with a lower-body injury. He was reunited with usual D partner Brooks Orpik.
Like Malkin and Neal, Sutter also had a multiple-point night. He started the play that led to Dupuis’ goal by winning an offensive-zone faceoff against David Legwand – which is notable considering the Preds are the NHL’s top team on draws. Sutter then scored the Pens’ final goal with just 1:23 left in the second period with a scorching snapshot that Mazanec didn’t even react on.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo