Don’t look now. But if yesterday’s game was any indication, our Penguins just might be rounding into playoff form.
In a sharp departure from recent efforts—not to mention the team’s typical Sunday matinee performances—the black and gold held the Florida Panthers to just 21 shots on goal en route to a crisp 4-0 victory.
The Pens displayed a steady work rate from the 1 PM start to the finish some two-and-a-half hours later. They paid attention to defensive details and were good away from the puck. All the while keeping the heat on the visiting Panthers.
A blueprint for the postseason.
Best of all, it was a total team effort. While Sidney Crosby (hat trick) and Marc-Andre Fleury (shutout) led the way, everyone contributed. From Patric Hornqvist’s typically dirty game-opening goal on a perfectly executed swinging bunt to the sweat equity of the patchwork fourth line, which combined for nearly 30 minutes of ice time. To say nothing of our banged-up but valiant defense.
“I think everybody wants to collectively make sure that we make up for the guys that are out,” Crosby said.
Still, the big boys led the charge. Okay, the not-so-big boys, if you want to get technical.
Sid and the kids, 180-pound Jake Guentzel and 175-pound Conor Sheary, lit up the scoreboard yesterday, collecting a dozen shots on goal and nine points between them. In remarkably consistent fashion, to boot.
Indeed, each of the unit’s scoring plays began with a Sheary pass to Guentzel, who in turn fed Crosby for the finish.
Bang, bang, bang.
Naturally, there were some variations. The trio’s first goal at 14:15 of the second period featured Sheary’s drop pass to Guentzel, followed by a long pass to Sid. Culminating in Crosby’s rocket from the right faceoff dot that zoomed past Florida goalie James Reimer’s flailing glove hand.
The second tally less than two minutes later…a long pass to Guentzel and a short one to Crosby. Sid chose to spice things up a little with a blind backhander from the slot, again to Reimer’s glove side.
On the third marker, exactly five minutes into the final frame? Two short passes, capped by a Crosby bullet from the lip of the crease.
“Sometimes those chances go in, sometimes they don’t,” said the Pens’ captain. “Today, I got some nice passes and guys created things, and I just happened to be in the right spot.”
All the while Fleury continued his quiet resurgence at the far end of the ice. One that’s seen “Flower” post a sterling .934 save percentage since backstopping the Pens to a 4-1 victory over St. Louis on February 4.
And the shutout?
“It’s been awhile,” Fleury said, flashing his trademark smile. “I was happy to make it until the end. There were a few series in there that were fun, but I thought our guys did great.”
“We’re so happy for him,” noted coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s such a good person and a great pro, and a good teammate.”
The Penguins are presently in third place in the Metropolitan Division. One point behind co-leaders Columbus and Washington. Each club has 11 games remaining in the regular season.
Thanks to his hat trick, Crosby regained the NHL goal-scoring lead. He has 40 goals—three more than Boston’s Brad Marchand. Sid’s tied with Edmonton star Connor McDavid for the most points (80 apiece).
It marks the second time Crosby’s reached the 40-goal mark. Sid scored a career-high 51 in 2009-10 to earn a share of the Maurice Richard Trophy.
Fleury’s shutout—the 44th of his career—is his first since February 29, 2016. He’s 12-3-3 since December 1.
The Pens honored Jaromir Jagr with a video tribute during a stop in play in the first period. The ageless 45-year-old wonder has 1907 career NHL points—second most all time. Including 1079 with the black and gold.