By: Meesh Shanmugam
Here’s a link to the Postgame Thoughts archive, in case you want to catch up on what you may have missed.
Pens 5 Panthers 1
Hornqvist (17) from Letang
Malkin (23), unassisted
Martin (3) from Crosby, Hornqvist
Hornqvist (18) (PP) from Crosby, Malkin
Malkin (24) from Sill
Click here to read the goal assessments
Despres (high-sticking) – Careless (lost his balance during a puck battle in the corner and put his stick into the face of Hayes as he went down to the ice)
Perron (holding the stick) – Unnecessary (wraps his hand around Gudbransson’s stick to hold him back and keep him from getting a loose puck)
Lapierre (slashing) – Unnecessary (slashes down on Upshall’s stick and breaks it in half for a penalty)
Evgeni Malkin – Though we’ve all seen Malkin overpower many players and goalies through the years, we haven’t seen many performances that featured his backhand as much as this one. He put together a dominant offensive performance with a three-point night. His first goal game on a partial breakaway after Jokinen gifted him a pass at Florida’s blue line and sent Malkin off to sneak a backhander through Montoya’s five-hole. His second goal came when he got the puck in the corner of the Panthers zone, took it to the edge of the crease, and lifted a backhander off of Montoya’s mask and into the net. He also added an assist on Hornqvist’s powerplay goal when he passed the puck down to Crosby below the goal line. Malkin led the team with five shots on net, had three takeaways and a pass interception, and played a rather flawless game. It looks like the stars are back to clicking for Pittsburgh.
Patric Hornqvist – Hornqvist built off of his performance on Saturday and elevated his game as he just continued to drive to the net. He scored his first goal of the game by crashing the crease and knocking a centering pass from Letang through the sticks of Gudbranson and Kulikov, through Montoya’s five-hole and into the net. He later scored another goal by going to the net when Crosby passed him the puck at the top of the crease on the powerplay, Montoya stopped a one-timer, and Hornqvist recovered his own rebound to backhand it past Montoya. Hornqvist also added in a secondary assist on Martin’s goal when he received a turnover in the neutral zone. He finished with three shots on net, a takeaway, two broken-up plays, and a drawn penalty to go against a couple of giveaways and a lost puck. As long as he keeps driving to the net, good things will happen.
Maxim Lapierre – Though the entire team had a slow start, Lapierre was the only guy who seemed to have a bad game from start to finish. He struggled in the defensive zone with a giveaway, a lost puck, and a lost defensive zone coverage. He also took a terrible, unnecessary slashing penalty behind the Penguins net as he broke Upshall’s stick when they were chasing a puck along the boards. Finally, he was partially at fault for the only goal against as he won the faceoff in the defensive zone back to no one (no one was lined up behind him) and then he allowed Trocheck to skate right past him to pick up the puck and make a centering pass to Upshall for the goal. Lapierre’s main job is to not be a liability, and this was not a successful performance for him.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Malkin said it best after the game, calling Fleury the MVP of this game and the season. It’s nearly impossible to argue as Fleury continues to dominate each performance. Fleury made 34 saves on 35 shots and kept the Pens from getting slaughtered after they were thoroughly outplayed for the first 40 minutes. The scoreboard gave no indication of how this game was actually played. The Panthers had a 27-16 lead in shots through 2 periods (16-8 after the first) and Fleury did his job as usual. Among some of his best saves: a left pad save on a Thornton redirect at the top of the crease, a blocker save on Huberdeau from the left circle, two pad saves on Trocheck on the crease during a penalty kill, and a left pad save on Hayes after an initial glove save. The only goal he allowed was on a redirection off of a defensive zone faceoff where he had no hope of making the save. It was another fantastic performance for Fleury in a fantastic year so far.
Paul Martin – Martin played his usual reliable game and finally got rewarded for it offensively with just his 3rd goal of the season. The sequence was actually started by Martin when he poked the stick of Hayes in the neutral zone and knocked the puck away from him to Hornqvist so the Penguins could enter the zone. Hornqvist moved it to Crosby, who waited as Martin entered the zone for a pass. Martin then got the puck from Crosby, skated down to the area inside the left faceoff dot, and ripped a wrist shot over Montoya’s glove with power we rarely see from Martin. Aside from his goal, Martin also had a forced turnover, pass interception, and three broken-up plays in the defensive zone to go against just one giveaway and one lost puck. It was a solid performance and the goal was a nice cherry on top for the reliable defenseman.
Derrick Pouliot – Pouliot has been up-and-down throughout his latest call-up as you would expect from a rookie defenseman, but I thought he looked surprisingly strong in this game despite the constant pressure from Florida. He recorded three takeaways and a broken-up play to go against a giveaway and a lost coverage. His most impressive moment was in a 1-on-1 situation in the defensive zone when he stepped up and stole the puck to move it in transition. He also looked very strong with the puck in the offensive zone, especially on the 2nd powerplay, as he used his body to protect the puck along the blue line and had no fear with skating into defenders and passing the puck between their legs. Whether things are going great or poorly, Pouliot shows a sense of calm and poise that most rookie defensemen (or Letang for the first 5 years of his career) don’t normally have. This was another promising performance from the rookie.
Slow Start – The only major concern in this game, and it was a rather alarming concern for a while, is how slow the Penguins started. Though they did play the previous night, so did the Panthers, meaning that the 2nd night of back-to-backs was no excuse for the slow start. Florida was just quicker to the puck in the first period and shooting absolutely everything on net to get a 16-8 shot lead after one. Florida came out quickly in the second period again, but the pace did start to shift towards the Penguins as the 2nd period continued. The second period still ended with a 27-16 shot lead for the Panthers. By the time the third period rolled around though, the Pens took over, largely due to goals in the last minute of the 2nd period and the first minute of the 3rd period, both of which occurred on turnovers from the Panthers. Though many issues looked better this weekend (crashing the net, puck support, powerplay), the slow starts are still a concern. Florida reminded me of a young Islanders team with how they pushed the pace and kept the Pens on their heels in the defensive zone. The next thing that the Penguins need to remember how to do is skate with those types of teams from the very start of the game. Who knows how this game turns out if Fleury lets up the first goal, given how the Penguins deal with comebacks. Always something to work on…
Looking Ahead – The Pens have a very quiet week ahead. They only have two games left before next Monday’s trade deadline: A rivalry night showdown at Washington on Wednesday and then a Sunday evening game against Columbus (I advise you find a hobby for this week). While this weekend was big in terms of confidence, it was perhaps even bigger for management to decide what direction they want to go in for the trade deadline. With such an open week, some lasting impressions were certainly formed this weekend as deals will be discussed all week. Wednesday’s game against the Capitals looms large. The Penguins played a tired Blues team playing their 2nd game in back-to-backs and an outmatched Florida team, who still gave the Penguins a much tougher game than the score suggests. Washington will be a true test to see if the good habits (crashing the net, powerplay movement, etc) are back. One game shouldn’t set the tone for the trade deadline and the playoff run, but it might do just that on Wednesday night.
FYI – Potential Staal trade thoughts are at the bottom of the Pens/Blues Postgame Thoughts if you missed it with the short turnaround.
Next Game: 2/25 @ Washington, 8pm
Thanks for reading!