For a team that hadn’t played together in nearly three weeks, the Penguins It was difficult to project how Pittsburgh’s first game back from the Olympic break on Thursday against Montreal would go.
Special teams played quite a factor in this game, especially in the third period. The first four goals of the game were scored at even strength, while five of the next six were either on the power play or shorthanded.
Sutter opened the scoring in the final frame with a gorgeous shorty. He tracked
back and stripped defending Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban of the puck at Pittsburgh’s blue line and was off on a breakaway. With two Canadiens in hot pursuit, Sutter calmly deked to his backhand and lifted a shot past Budaj to give the Penguins a 4-3 lead.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, Montreal responded on the next shift when Alexei Emelin put a point shot past a screened Fleury to tie the game back up.
A few minutes later, Crosby scored a huge power-play goal when a shot from Malkin on the opposite halfwall deflected off bodies in front right to the captain, who settled it and shot it past a diving Budaj. But again, the Canadiens responded less than two minutes later when they scored in the midst of a five-minute major penalty to Tanner Glass.
With top-four defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin both out of the lineup, Pittsburgh’s other defensemen knew they’d have to step up.
And on Thursday, they did so on the scoresheet, with blueliners Maatta and Engelland both finding the back of the net for Pittsburgh.
After the way Maatta performed for Finland during the Olympics, teammate Jussi
Jokinen said the teenager would be coming back to Pittsburgh with a lot of confidence. He did, and it showed in his first game back on Thursday.
Maatta finished with a goal and an assist in the game, his score coming on a second period power play when he lined up a pass from the blue line and absolutely bombed a shot into the netting past Budaj.
Engelland was back on the blue line for the first time in a long time, as coach Dan Bylsma had been slotting him in as a fourth-line forward. The offensive instincts he’d been honing during his time up top kicked in on his goal, as he didn’t hesitate to follow his breakout pass out of the Pens’ zone and become an outlet for Neal, who hit him with a pass that he shot past Budaj.
Jokinen, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal haven’t played together in nearly three weeks, but you couldn’t tell from the way they played Thursday.
In fact, it looked like they didn’t miss a beat with the way they were skating and reading off each other beautifully to make plays.
They were Pittsburgh’s best line, and overall, Neal was the Penguins’ best player on the ice tonight with the way he was moving his feet (absolutely flying) and shooting the puck. He opened the scoring for Pittsburgh in the first period when he received a pass through traffic from Malkin, powered around defending Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and lifted a shot through Budaj’s arm.
Neal then made it back onto the scoresheet when he skated the puck out of his own end, carried into the slot and dished a perfect pass over to Engelland.
Author: Sam Kasan