After a convincing win against a strong Vancouver team, the Penguins have won eight of their last nine games.
Tonight’s game saw Mike Johnston making a homecoming of sorts to Vancouver, where he was an assistant coach and where he still has a house. It was also Nick Bonino’s first game in Vancouver after the trade that brought him to Pittsburgh and sent Brandon Sutter to the Canucks.
I didn’t recap last game against the Leafs, when Eric Fehr made his debut in a Penguins uniform. Obviously, Fehr is a huge addition to this team. He’s playing center on the fourth line, which speaks volumes about how much additional depth this team has compared to last year.
The talk before the game focused on the fact that the Penguins have allowed the fewest goals per game in the NHL. It’s certainly notable that they’ve only let in 1.81 goals per game when the expectation was that this team would be defensively unsound. It remains to be seen that this trend will continue, however, the defense continued to look dependable throughout most of this game.
Sid started the game with a shot on Ryan Miller, a goalie he has absolutely owned throughout his career.
Scuderi committed a turnover early and then fixed his own mistake, short-circuiting a breakaway by diving to knock the puck off the attacking Jannik Hansen’s stick.
Malkin manufactured a goal on the ensuing offensive zone possession, passing to Dumoulin at the point. Perron tipped Dumoulin’s shot into the net to finally get his first goal of the year. A fitting reward for how hard he’s been working.
Then Fehr drew a penalty as he was tripped by Ben Hutton. The Canucks’ penalty kill, fueled by Brandon Sutter, kept the puck in the Pens’ zone for a good 30 seconds.
The Pens’ second PP unit actually looked pretty good, moving the puck and maintaining possession in the Canucks zone for a while after the penalty ended.
Kessel had the puck at the blue line and an open lane to the goal, but the play was whistled dead. He slammed his stick in rage. The refs apparently thought Perron had entered the zone first.
The third line of Bonino/Bennett/Kunitz has looked very good on the cycle, demonstrating the kind of offensive zone puck possession that’s reminiscent of Jordan Staal’s third line in 2009. The fourth line, with Fehr/Cullen/Plotnikov, also held its own.
Late in the period, Adam Cracknell found himself all alone with the puck in front of the Penguins’ net. Fleury made the save.
Plotnikov went off for hooking, but the Pens’ PK limited the Canucks to only a couple shots.
The Canucks came out with more energy than they showed in the entire first period. In the first minute, Bo Horvat had a breakaway chance, but Fleury was again up to the challenge.
Just seconds later, Hansen split the D and took a shot from in close. Somehow, Fleury got a piece of the puck, and it hit the post and bounced back out. Dupuis took the puck the other direction and launched a backhand at Miller. Then Sutter fired one over the net as Fleury tripped over Scuderi in the crease.
Hansen bought a hooking call and the Canucks PP unit took the ice again. Nothing doing.
Scuderi cleared the puck over the glass, another Canucks PP. Fleury made a nice save on Daniel Sedin. Flower was bailing out the Pens’ D, which had some breakdowns after a solid first period.
Malkin stole the puck at the Canucks’ blue line and passed across to Kessel, who absolutely rocketed a puck off the crossbar. The puck actually landed in the Penguins’ bench. What a shot. I get the feeling that Kessel is going to start scoring goals in droves in the near future.
Letang, jumping into the play in the offensive zone, drew a penalty. The PP had lots of chances. Sid dropped to one knee and hacked Miller when the puck didn’t come to his stick. The second PP unit looked decent, and the top unit came back on and held the puck in the Canucks’ zone long after the penalty ended. When Derek Dorsett finally was able to clear the puck, Kessel crosschecked him face-first into the boards. Dorsett got pissed and went back at Kessel. The result was a four on four that lasted to the end of the second.
The third line started on the ice and fired up another strong cycle, this time against the Canucks’ top line.
Crosby passed one to Hornqvist, who pushed the puck through Miller’s legs and just wide of the net.
Letang blocked a shot that hit him in the top of the boot, causing him to skate to the bench in pain.
Dorsett and Fehr went to the box after a little jousting by the benches. Then Perron, still working hard, was hooked by Tanev on a breakaway. Bob Errey wanted to see a penalty shot. Nonetheless, the Pens went on the 4v3 powerplay.
The powerplay was clean and efficient. Kessel skated to the center of the ice at the blue line and took a shot-pass right to Crosby’s stick in front of Miller. Crosby made a quick move to get the puck around Miller, then stuffed it in the net. 2-0 Pens.
Cole tripped Hansen and the Canucks went on the powerplay again. The Canucks’ Vrbata quickly took a penalty for interfering with Fleury. Fleury jumped off the ice and the extra attacker jumped on.
As that was happening, Fehr took the puck out of the Pens’ zone, skated into the Canucks’ zone, did a power move around Weber, and roofed the puck behind Miller. He did it all himself.
Daniel Sedin deflected Mt. Lebanon native Matt Bartkowski’s shot past Fleury to break the shutout. Fleury spent a little bit of time losing his mind to end the game, skating out to challenge puck carriers and taking shots at the Canucks’ empty net, resulting in a second Vancouver goal. But the Pens held on to win.
This team is picking up steam as it rolls along.