Games against Winnipeg have a tendency to turn into shootouts, especially in this building. Sunday was no different.
Fortunately for the Pens, they came out on the right end of this high-scoring affair – beating the Jets 6-5 this afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center in the first meeting of the season between the teams.
“That's certainly not the kind of game we want to be involved in, but I don't know if it's the water, the Jets, the travel, but when we play these guys, it seems to be one where halfway through the game I say that we need to throw this tape out,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “It was 7-4 a couple times against these guys in previous years and (we played) some wild ones. This one was one we're going to put with the rest of those tapes.”
Defenseman Matt Niskanen scored the game-winner with 7:22 remaining in the third period, while the line of Jussi Jokinen, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal combined for the other five goals. Malkin scored twice and added an assist in his first game back after missing nine games with a lower-body injury. Neal also recorded two goals and an assist while Jokinen finished with a goal and an assist.
Their time together this season has been sporadic, with injuries and a suspension to Neal. But the three of them have had tremendous chemistry when they are all in the lineup, and it took no time for them to rediscover that today.
"It’s been a while, I don't know, a month or so since we've been together,” Jokinen said. “I think we all enjoy playing with each other and that chemistry is there. We all work really hard. The thing is we all keep shooting the puck, we all can score, we all can make plays. Sometimes we're too cute and passing too much, but I think tonight we were pursuing the puck a lot and got some goals like that and ‘Geno’ got a big one too."
The Pens extended their home win streak to 12 games, tying the franchise record they set last season (Feb. 22-March 30, 2013). Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves to get the win, his ninth straight in this building.
MALKIN'S TRIUMPHANT RETURN
Evgeni Malkin had gone three days without experiencing pain in his lower-body injury. Whether or not he would play against the Winnipeg Jets Sunday afternoon would be a game-time decision.
The coaches decided to play Malkin.
It turned out to be a good decision.
Full story here
LETANG ALSO RETURNS
Kris Letang isn’t exactly the kind of player you ease back into the lineup with his talent and ability, and it showed on Sunday.
Letang ended up logging a game-high 24:31 minutes in his first game back after missing the last 10 games with an upper-body injury.
The first period had to have been somewhat of an adjustment for Letang, as the Jets are a fast team that plays with pace. Their speed is tough for any opposing defenseman to handle, much less one returning from a long absence. But Letang made it look easy, skating a game-high 10:13 minutes in that period alone while manning the point on the top power-play unit for Pittsburgh’s two man-advantage opportunities.
The Pens didn’t convert there, but Letang made sure they did in the second period – setting up Neal’s first goal in gorgeous fashion. Letang had the puck on the blue line under heavy pressure, but calmly wheeled around and escaped to the center of the ice. He put a pass right in Neal’s wheelhouse for the winger to wind up and hit the puck with the sweet spot of his blade past Jets goalie Al Montoya before he could even react.
“He made a great play on the blue line there,” Neal said. “He didn't have much time or space and kind of made a quick move there. It was a great pass back to me and just got it on net.”
After the first period, the score was 2-0 Jets. After the second? 5-4 Jets. And after the third? 6-5 Pens.The Pens may have been down going into each intermission, but they found a way to battle back to win the game and come away with a big two points.
Winnipeg played yesterday while Pittsburgh did not, but you would have thought the opposite judging by the way the teams played the first 20 minutes. The Jets came out true to their name, absolutely flying. They played with energy, speed and pace, forcing the Pens to turn pucks over and winning all the battles for loose ones. If it weren’t for Fleury coming up with a number of tough saves, it could have been worse than 2-0.
But the Pens regrouped during the intermission and found their legs for the second period, coming out and scoring three quick ones in the first five minutes to take the 3-2 lead – Malkin opened with a goal 1:06 in, followed by a pair from Neal.
While the Jets may have been taken aback by the way the Pens opened the second after their sloppy first, they quickly composed themselves and responded – scoring three of the next four goals to make sure they took a lead into the second intermission as well. But the Pens wouldn't be deterred, outshooting the Jets 11-0 to start the third and getting big goals from Malkin and Niskanen to give them a 6-5 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We didn't have that start and they had several good opportunities and they got up on us,” Bylsma said. “This one, from a chance standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, wasn't our best in a lot of areas. But we came out after the first period and got back in it with a power-play goal from James Neal. We get back in the thing. Again we come out in the third having to find a way to win and this team does that and has done that.”