By Brian Metzer
The Penguins kept things moving in the right direction with another huge division victory on Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden, as they knocked off the New York Rangers 6-3. Pascal Dupuis notched the game winning goal on a second period power play off of a slick feed from Evgeni Malkin, James Neal picked up two more goals and Tomas Vokoun picked up his first victory in a Penguins’ uniform.
The win, the Penguins’ second in a row, puts them in first place in a very competitive Atlantic Division after the Rangers, Flyers and Islanders failed to pick up a victory. The New Jersey Devils are in second place with 2-points after beating the Islanders 2-1 on Saturday.
Here are a few key stats, thoughts and observations from the victory last night in case you missed it.
- Tomas Vokoun made his Penguins’ debut and it looks like he will be everything that they hoped he would. He made some key saves early and looked comfortable in making 31-saves. In looking at the goals that he allowed, there wasn’t one that stood out as a “bad goal.” If we had to choose one, it would be the Taylor Pyatt tally. Vokoun’s performance might not have been what you could call sparkling, but it was very effective and more than enough to notch 2-points more than not when he is between the pipes. One noticeable aspect of his game that might not have been obvious before was the fact that he isn’t afraid to come out and play the puck. That will only assist the Penguins’ blueliners.
- Tanner Glass showed a little of everything that he brings to the table last night. He started the evening with a very spirited fight against former Penguin Arron Asham the moment that the puck was dropped. He did more than hold his own and both guys fought tooth and nail for upwards of a minute. He threw 4-hits in the game and had a sparkling scoring opportunity as he flew down the slot, took a feed from Joe Vitale and almost squeaked a wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist. He was also effective in killing penalties, helping the Penguins kill off all but one 5-on-3 situation. It won’t be a surprise to see the Penguins’ faithful fall in love with his blue collar style of play in the coming weeks.
- Brandon Sutter, who picked up his first point in a Penguins’ uniform on Saturday after an official scoring change credited him with an assist on Paul Martin’s goal, had another nice game. He was effective in the face-off circle winning 63-percent of his draws and throwing 3 shots on goal. He was the victim of a little called penalty in the first period as he drew a delay of game for a “face-off violation.” The rule applies to situations where one of the two players taking the draw moves the puck with their hand during the face-off. It was the penalty that gave the Rangers the 5-on-3 advantage in which they scored their lone power play goal of the evening.
- James Neal is looking like he will be a monster this season. He scored two more goals in the game and has me wondering if he might be capable of notching 50 during the shortened 48-game schedule. He also fired 7 shots on goal and had 2 takeaways. He is shooting the puck quickly, accurately and with velocity. Goalies have been having a lot of trouble reacting to his release. Neal currently ranks second in the league behind Marian Hossa with 3-goals.
- Evgeni Malkin, who is showing no rust after playing 37 games in the KHL, had a big night, picking up 3-assists, 1 hit and 2 takeaways. There are two areas of his game that haven’t been particularly awesome to this point: face-offs and getting pucks to the net. He did have a good day in the circle on Saturday, winning 58-percent of his draws, but fell off to 20-percent yesterday (2-of-8). Same goes for his shots, where he got two on net Saturday, but saw six attempts blocked or miss the net on Sunday. Though the KHL plays at a high level, it could be a step or two slower than the National Hockey League. This is probably where Geno will need to make an adjustment, which will happen automatically as he continues to get back into the NHL groove.
- Paul Martin played another good game. He and Brooks Orpik did a nice job of keeping the Rangers in check until the game was already firmly in hand.
- Kris Letang played another 24:17. It will be interesting to see if Dan Bylsma monitors his ice time moving forward so as not to wear him down.
- Sidney Crosby picked up his first point of the season, winning a face-off back to Matt Niskanen who slid a shot past Lundqvist during a first period power play.
- Speaking of Special Teams, the Penguins are clicking at 50-percent on the power play during the young season. They have scored on 4-of-8 opportunities. They have also killed off 88.9-percent of the power plays against, which is good for a second place tie.
After notching a pretty successful weekend that saw the Penguins sit through the home openers of two rivals, they will finally have a chance to take part in their own when they return to the CONSOL Energy Center on Wednesday evening.
Stay tuned for more later.