In the wake of the Penguins’ 3-1 win over Montreal at CONSOL Energy Center Thursday night, Dan Bylsma had every reason to feel positively giddy. Not only did the black and gold prevail over a Canadiens club that has given his team fits the past couple of seasons, but they accomplished the feat precisely the way Bylsma draws it up on the chalkboard—with speed, aggression, timely scoring, and air-tight goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury.
Buoyed by the return of talented forward Dustin Jeffrey and bruising defenseman Brooks Orpik, the Penguins gave their finest performance of the campaign. Displaying plenty of jump, they grabbed the lead at 8:55 of the first period when scoring machine James Neal caromed in a shot off the left post for his league-best seventh goal of the season. The Pens continued to pour it on through the opening 20 minutes, out-shooting the Habs by a whopping 16-8 margin.
“They were first on the pucks, and they were dictating the pace of the game,” Montreal defenseman Hal Gill said.
Showing no ill effects from playing their ninth game in 14 days, the Pens stretched their lead to 2-0 early in the second period, thanks to some crisp puck movement and heavy-duty cycling in the Montreal zone. Rookie Joe Vitale capped off the sequence by deflecting Deryk Engelland’s blast from the point past Montreal goalie Carey Price.
The Canadiens countered with some sustained pressure of their own, but Fleury was razor sharp. Midway through the period “Flower” stopped a pair of rapid-fire shots by Mathieu Darche, followed moments later by a huge glove save on Josh Gorges from inside the left circle. In all, the cat-quick goalie made 27 saves to earn the No. 1 star.
The Pens put the game on ice at 5:20 of the final period, when Engelland snapped off a bad-angle shot from along the goal line. The puck ricocheted high into the slot, where Arron Asham was waiting. Displaying the hand-eye coordination of Pirates slugger Andrew McCutchen, the gritty winger batted the flying rubber into the net to seal the victory.
Although Brian Gionta ruined Fleury’s shutout bid with 1:36 remaining, the Pens were no less pleased with their effort.
“When you’re doing the right things and you’re playing with speed, you know you’re a tough team to play against,” Neal said.
Engelland (two assists and a game-high six hits) earned the No. 2 star … The Penguins again dominated on face-offs, winning 39 of 64 draws (61 percent) … Pascal Dupuis and Steve Sullivan paced the Pens with four shots apiece … The Pens out-hit Montreal 26-15 … Matt Cooke, Matt Niskanen, Asham, Engelland, and Vitale each registered a plus-two … Tyler Kennedy, Steve MacIntyre, and Evgeni Malkin were scratches.
The Penguins (5-2-2) host Petr Sykora and the nettlesome New Jersey Devils (3-1) at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday night. The Pens trail the all-time series with the Devils, 86-91-25.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.