Talk about a response.
After losing to Florida 5-1 on Monday, the Pens followed up what was arguably their ugliest performance of the season with one of their best, defeating the Montreal Canadiens by that same score of 5-1 on Wednesday.
Jussi Jokinen scored twice, Evgeni Malkin finished with a goal and an assist and Sidney Crosby and Taylor Pyatt both recorded power-play markers. Marc-Andre Fleury (who nearly got into a goalie fight with Peter Budaj – more on that below) made 23 saves for the Pens while his teammates chased Carey Price from the net at the other end after he allowed the fifth goal late in the second period.
"I think we definitely buckled down, especially defensively, and didn't give them a time when we did,” Crosby said. “I think it was a good game to respond."
On Monday, the Pens couldn’t execute at all. Today, they executed flawlessly. Everything that was lacking in their last game – their energy, their compete level, their speed and their passing – was present in this one. Their focus coming out of that last game, said coach Dan Bylsma, was returning to the defense-first mentality that made them so successful in games 10-30.
“We were tough to play against because we played well defensively, well with the puck (and were) good structurally,” Bylsma said. “And that’s a lot of what we’ve talked about and a lot of what we maybe got away from in terms of our detail and how we play. Our focus was really do your job, do your responsibilities.
“Looking up at the shot clock (and seeing) it was 13 or 14 shots through two periods, we hadn’t given them very many opportunities. We think we’d done a good job playing away from the puck as a group and that’s where we were a lot better tonight (while) still pushing forward with playing offensively and getting to the offensive zone and their guys back on their heels.”
IT WAS ABOUT TO BE A GOALIE FIGHT
The idea of Marc-Andre Fleury getting into a fight is, well, pretty ludicrous, as he isn’t an especially intimidating guy in the sense that the friendly, affable and laidback goalie always has a smile on his face.
But Fleury said he was more than willing to accept Peter Budaj’s invitation to fight at the end of Wednesday’s game, even though he couldn't stop that smile from creeping onto his face in such a ludicrous situation.
And though Fleury dropped his gloves, removed his helmet and unhooked his jersey's fight strap in an effort to meet Budaj at center ice, the refs kept the two of them apart and kept the fisticuffs from happening.
“There was just a little scrum in my net and I backed off, and I saw the other goalie was at the top of the circle going to the blue (line),” Fleury said. “So I looked at him, he looked at me, just gave a little wave (like) yeah, let’s go. Nothing happened, though.”
Does he wish it did?
“Yeah, sure,” Fleury said, pointing out with a grin, “I wasn’t going there for fun. I might, but I don’t know.”
It wouldn’t have been the first time Fleury has dropped the gloves in a game, as he fought twice back in junior hockey when he was with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Though it's been a long time, Fleury already has a little bit of street cred, even though his teammates found that hard to believe.
“They mostly just laughed at me,” Fleury joked. “If I do good, then I guess I might have got a reputation around our dressing room. But if I get knocked out, then maybe not.”
While a fight would have been a sight to see, Fleury's fellow Penguins and his head coach agreed it was probably for the best it didn't happen for that very reason – so that he wouldn’t get hurt. And once Fleury heard from a reporter that Budaj actually knows martial arts, he agreed with them.
“Does he really?” Fleury asked incredulously. When that reporter replied in the affirmative, he joked, “Maybe that’s a good thing (we didn’t fight), then.”
JOKINEN’S BIG EVENING
Home is where the points are. Well, at least for Jussi Jokinen it is. Jokinen continues to flourish at home as he scored two goals in the Penguin’s 5-1 win over Montreal on Wednesday.
It was Jokinen’s third multi-goal game of the season, all of which have been under CONSOL Energy Center’s roof. He scored two goals against the New York Rangers on Jan. 3 and notched his second career hat trick against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 8.
Full story to come.
Jokinen’s line with Malkin and James Neal was Pittsburgh’s most dominant. And Malkin was the best player on the ice, proving that no one – not even the league’s reigning Norris Trophy winner – can handle him when he’s on his game.
Malkin dominated the matchup with P.K. Subban all evening, forcing the defenseman to chase him all over the ice and resort to hacking, whacking and holding to try and contain him – which resulted in a slashing penalty in the first 10 minutes of the game. And when he wasn’t being pursued, Malkin was tracking down the puck and forcing turnovers.
It was one of those nights where it looked like said puck was glued to Malkin’s stick, with the way he was stickhandling around bodies and through traffic and in tight spaces. He carried it with speed, used his deceptive strength to protect it and made Habs look like pylons the way he was able to dance around them.
“The last two, three weeks, we feel our line has been playing really well,” Jokinen said. “Obviously there’s lots of mixing and matching during the games, but it seems like every time we go out there together we can create a lot of stuff. It’s kudos to those guys, it’s been very fun playing with those guys and all of us working really hard and creating chances every game.”
With the way their first power play went (the slashing penalty to Subban), it looked like the Pens might be in for a long night on the man-advantage.
But the Pens, who hadn’t scored a power-play goal in three straight games but still had the league’s No. 1 unit entering tonight, rectified that on their following opportunities – finishing 2-for-5 against a Habs team that’s been strong shorthanded all season (they ranked fourth in the league entering tonight).
Pittsburgh’s second unit scored the first to make it 2-0 in the opening frame, when big winger Taylor Pyatt – using his big frame to provide the netfront presence and screen Price – deflected Niskanen’s shot from the point. Niskanen finished with two assists, extending his point streak to a career-high five games. He has two goals and five assists over that stretch, and has 15 points (6G-9A) in his last 15 games.
Pittsburgh’s first unit followed up with their own to make it 4-1 in the second period. Kris Letang lasered a pass through traffic to Crosby at the side of the net, who easily deflected it into the open net before Price could slide over.
The Canadiens may have struggled on the PK, but the Pens did not as their No. 1-ranked unit went a perfect 3-for-3 in the game.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo