“March of the Penguins” is inevitably how a great many Penguins fans will remember March of 2013. After all, not only did a win this afternoon allow the Penguins to go 15-0-0 throughout the month of March while ending the season with three back-to-back shutouts, but they also added depth to the roster without losing any major pieces of the puzzle and persevered through what seems to be a month of endless injuries. With today’s 2-0 victory over the New York Islanders, they set a franchise record for single victories in a month and matched, ironically enough, the New York Islanders for the second longest winning streak in NHL history. But as much as Pens fans have to celebrate, they were dealt a potential blow this afternoon when Captain Sidney Crosby left the ice – and the building –following being struck by a Brooks Orpik slap shot in the mouth. Crosby has gone for oral surgery but the severity of the injury and the subsequent consequences are still unknown. Despite that particular upset, today’s game did have Penguins fans smiling for yet another reason and that was the addition of Jarome Iginla to the lineup – literally at the last minute – making his franchise debut with the club following his acquisition VERY early Thursday morning. Iginla made his debut skating on a line with Neal and Malkin – the kind of line hockey dreams are made of.
Crosby went down very early in the game, his spot on the first line being filled first by Tyler Kennedy and then Brandon Sutter. It would take Pittsburgh almost ten minutes to record their first shot on goal. The Isles dominated play through the first twenty, and with forty-one seconds left before the first horn, Deryk Engelland was whistled for a hook, giving New York the man advantage heading into the second.
Engelland would get off a shot emerging from the box to start the second, giving him three of the Pens’ six up to that point. It wasn’t long before the Isles found themselves down a man as Andrew MacDonald was given a seat for a trip. However, less than a minute later, Chris Kunitz levelled the playing field with his own hooking call, sending the teams to some four-on-four hockey. Neither team could capitalize that time round, nor were the Penguins successful when Matt Cooke drew a hooking call against Lubomir Visnovsky. With just over three and a half minutes less to go, without a goal to be had, Chris Kunitz was whistled yet again – this time for a check from behind – and as a result, was given a game misconduct. The call came after Kunitz hit Josh Bailey and sent him into the end boards. A small scrum would ensue and Bailey, slow to get up, would head down the runway. The five minute major meant the Penguins were going to wind down another period short-handed, and this was compounded when Brooks Orpik was called for a trip with just thirty-three seconds left in the middle frame. Amazingly enough (and thanks to net-minder Tomas Vokoun), the game remained scoreless through forty, Vokoun making twenty-four saves in the process.
The Penguins penalty kill would continue to be successful and the Isles would continue to be held without a goal to start the third but not for a lack of trying. Michael Grabner would earn a breakaway but would be beaten by Vokoun’s blocker. The first goal of the game came courtesy of Matt Cooke with just under twelve minutes left in regulation. Following a faceoff win in the offensive zone, Cooke would crash the net before picking up a rebound and scoring on a turning shot. This was followed by the second of the afternoon, courtesy of James Neal. Earning a 2-on-1 with Matt Niskanen, Neal beat Evgeni Nabokov five-hole for the tally, cushioning the Pens’ lead by 2. Travis Hamonic would come close to ending Vokoun’s shut out with a slap shot that the net-minder would come out to challenge. The Isles would pull Nabokov with 2:40 left in regulation in favour of the extra attacker but to no avail. Pittsburgh took the game 2 to 0; earning “W” number 15 and their third consecutive shut-out.
Brooks Orpik led all skaters with 22:19 of icetime while Douglas Murray, in his second game as a Penguin, recorded 21:31. James Neal banked five shots on goal while Pascal Dupuis, Brenden Morrow, and Jarome Iginla each recorded three of their own. Pittsburgh sent 27 shots toward the Isles net-minder while Vokoun faced 35. In his first game in the black and goal, Iginla posted 17:30 of icetime with a plus one rating.
The injury woes continue for the Penguins. Still without defencemen Kris Letang, expected to be out another week as the result of a broken toe, the defensive core lost another important piece today when it was announced Paul Martin was out for at least 6 weeks following surgery to his hand. A bone was broken Thursday when Martin was hit by the puck. Sidney Crosby, as mentioned, left the game early on in the first and as of the time of this recap, all that could be ascertained as that he’d underwent oral surgery and according to some media outlets, was still in hospital. Marc-Andre Fleury is also sidelined with an undisclosed injury following a collision with Tyler Kennedy earlier this week when Kennedy was propelled into Fleury following his own collision with Montreal’s Brian Gionta.
The Penguins will sit for two days before they lace up against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. Game time is 7:00pm. (See ya then, Ryan Miller.)