You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk – before you learn to run. The Penguins are on a 4 game win streak, so why the odd opening sentence? Well, let’s face it, the strength of opposing teams was not exactly “all that and a bag of chips.” The last two games, our Penguins feasted on Buffalo Sabres, a team that is 1-8-1 over the last 10 games and was held scoreless for 231 minutes and 18 seconds; about 1/2 of a period shy of 4 straight games. The team the Penguins played before that, the Philadelphia Flyers, are win less, 0-5-5 over their last 10 games. Even the Tampa Bay Lightning Bolts, who are a good team, are, themselves, slumping; they have gone 6-4-0 over their last 10 games. So, as some of our regular readers have suggested, yes, the 4 game winning streak is something to celebrate, but let’s temper our enthusiasm and remember the strength of our opponents while we celebrate.
Watching Evgeni Malkin score the opening tally was one of the good things to celebrate. How often have we watched a Penguin come in on a 2 on 1 or some other type of odd man break and opt for trying to force the pass across to another player breaking down the far side only to have the opponents’ defense break up the pass or miss the pass. Last night, finally, Malkin was a bit selfish (not really, it was the right play, put the puck on net) and rather than try and force a pass across to Kessel who was breaking with him on a 2 on 1, the big Russian Bear ripped a wrist shot past former Penguin’s draft pick Chad Johnson. Although if Johnson had been scouting our Penguins’ shooters, maybe he cheated towards Kessel and that may have helped open up more room for Malkin score.
Another really good sign during last night’s game was the Penguins’ second goal, which as fate would have it turned out to be the Game Winning Goal. Carl Hagelin not only got on the on the score sheet with a goal, but he did it in goal scorer fashion. After some great work from Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan to get the puck to Hagelin, he skated out from below the goal line, across the front of the net, getting Johnson to flounder like a fish on the ice as he dangled with the puck, until, with great patience, he found the back of a wide open net. If you saw the goal, you may have thought it was Malkin or Sidney Crosby, dazzling the opponents with that shot.
Hornqvist is also heating up right now. He has himself a bit of goal scoring streak, depositing another puck into the back of the net from his office (the front of the net) on the power play. Actually, he really didn’t need to do much more than stand there as Crosby placed a picture perfect pass right onto his stick and the puck pretty much deflected off of Hornqvist’s stick; he didn’t even move his stick enough to call it a push as the puck slid behind Johnson.
Phil Kessel continued to roll; he ripped his patented laser beam wrist shot from the Right Wing Face-Off Circle, short side, past Johnson’s glove. Malkin set Kessel up for the goal with a short break-out pass near the Right Wing wall.
The Penguins also notched 5 goals for the third time over the current winning streak when Crosby finished the scoring out with an empty net goal.
Perhaps the best sign was the Penguins’ Defense. In his short time with the Penguins, just like with Matt Murray, there is a calming presence and expectation of good things happening when Tristan Jarry is in goal and he did shine again tonight. Despite giving up over 30 shots on goal again tonight, I did want to give a shout out to the Defense; at last they had a pretty strong showing, funneling most of the plays to the perimeter in the face of absolute desperate play by a talented (albeit luckless) team. After being called out by their coach, the Sabres tried their level best to find the back of the net but our Penguins gave them very little time and space to work and almost posted back-to-back shutouts against them. Even with 4 power plays to work with, the Sabres found most of their plays and breakouts disrupted by Penguin checkers.
Again, the Penguins weren’t beating quality teams who were on hot streaks, but by beating the Sabres and Flyers, they are steadily crawling. If they can build on this and pick up a couple more wins in the coming week against the Rangers, Islanders, and Maple Leafs, maybe they can finally start walking, eventually picking up the speed to run.