By Brian Metzer
I have some catching up to do!
I got side tracked on “key stats, thoughts and observations” over the weekend as I had a number of commitments surrounding the games that ate up my time, but we’ll rectify that situation this evening.
In the space between the Penguins’ embarrassing loss to the Islanders on home ice last Tuesday to the team’s victory over that same team this Tuesday, they find themselves looking much more consistent and riding a four-game winning streak.
It started with an impressive victory over the New York Rangers last Thursday night. Tomas Vokoun was back in the cage and posted a 3-0 shutout. Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Simon Despres were the goal scorers, the latter coming as Despres left the penalty box and beat Henrik Lundqvist with a backhand on a breakaway.
Saturday brought a definitive victory over the Stanley Cup runner up New Jersey Devils. Marc-Andre Fleury had to make just 15 saves and the team got goals from Brandon Sutter, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby and Robert Bortuzzo, which was his first in the National Hockey League.
The weekend was bookended with a victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon as Chris Kunitz notched four goals – the first time a Penguins’ player has done that since Jaromir Jagr notched four in a game back in the year 2000. It is the first time it has happened in a road game since Mario Lemieux did it in 1997.
Finally, the Penguins got their revenge on the New York Islanders with a gritty road win in Long Island. Fleury made 32 saves and the team got goals from Neal, Despres, Sutter, and Pascal Dupuis.
Here are a collection of key stats, thoughts and observations in case you missed any of the above…
Game 7: Penguins 3 – Rangers 0
- The undisciplined play of earlier in the season reared its head a bit, but they were able to kill off four Rangers power plays.
- Vokoun turns in another solid effort. It was a great combination of fine defensive play and solid goaltending. Vokoun didn’t have to make many second or third saves and he stoned every first opportunity that he faced. This type of performance is also going to bring the best out of Marc-Andre Fleury. He has long performed better when he has someone challenging him for playing time.
- Simon Despres played a solid game in the loss against the Islanders and that continued against the Rangers. He picked up two points (one goal), registered a plus-two and two shots on goal. He was on the ice for 12:47 and turned in what was probably his best performance of the season. If the team is showcasing him, he is doing them a big favor.
- Paul Martin finished even again and led all skaters with 26:23 of ice time.
- Sidney Crosby took 28 draws in the game and won 57-percent of them.
Game 8: Pens 5 – Devils 1
- Brandon Sutter scored his first goal in a Penguins’ uniform. It was the first goal for or against scored at five-on-five with him on the ice.
- Chris Kunitz fought off a sickness that had had him under the weather for several days and scored the first of five goals on the weekend. He also posted two assists on the day.
- Kunitz, Crosby and Pascal Dupuis combined to post eight points (two goals) in the game.
- Despres registered a plus-three in 18:21 of ice time.
- Crosby won 67-percent of his draws in the game.
- The Devils’ Andy Greene scored a shorthanded goal in the game, making the Penguins’ the first team in the league to allow two this season.
- Zach Boychuk made his debut and joined James Neal/Evgeni Malkin on the Penguins’ second line. He didn’t look out of place. He made some skill plays with the puck and registered one shot on goal. He might not be the answer on the line, but he was a definite step up from who had been skating with the unit.
- Robert Bortuzzo scored his first NHL goal against a legend, beating Marty Brodeur from the point. The youngster didn’t seem to know what to do with himself as the puck crossed the line and he sort of shrugged before being mobbed by his teammates.
Game 9: Pens 6 – Caps 3
- Kunitz was the story of this game, as everything he touched ended up in the net. Heck, even one that he didn’t know he had was credited to him on Monday afternoon. Four shots, four goals. You still think that he should head back to the Malkin/Neal line?
- Penalty kill came close to shutting it down, but yielded a goal in the third period to the Caps’ Mike Ribeiro.
- Simon Despres is taking a few too many penalties for my liking, but it is tolerable when he turns in the kind of performances that he has over the past few games. He’ll need to rein in that behavior moving forward.
- Tom Poti sighting. Do you all remember the days when Penguins’ fans were clamoring for his acquisition from the Edmonton Oilers? I certainly do.
- Bortuzzo with another bang up game. The youngster has me wondering why the heck it took so long to get him in the line-up. He makes smart plays with the puck, doesn’t take chances and just plays a solid game in all facets. He picked up an assist and registered a plus-two. He also blocked two shots and fired two shots on goal.
- Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are each heating up over the winning streak. Crosby is actually riding a five game scoring streak that has seen him pick up nine points (one goal) and he now has 14 points on the season. Malkin has seven points (one goal) in his last six games and has 12 points on the season.
Game 10: Pens 4 – Islanders 2
- Dan Bylsma showed that he still has a magic touch. He made great use of his timeout when things looked to be tilting the Islanders way during the third period after two quick goals. He called the timeout, the team regrouped and went on to shut things down and secure the victory.
- James Neal picked up his sixth goal of the season and is now on pace for 23 on the year, which translates to 49 during a full NHL season.
- Brandon Sutter scored his second goal in three games. He really looks to be settling in with the Penguins and has been successful in all facets of the game. His faceoff work is still a bit up and down though.
- Brooks Orpik blocked five shots in the game.
- Joe Vitale won 71-percent of his draws.
- Simon Despres got on the board again. He took a feed in the slot and ripped it home. He seems to gain more confidence each and every game and looks to have solidified his spot in the lineup, at least in the short-term.
- Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves and really gave his team a chance to win throughout the evening.
The Penguins really seem to have found their groove over the last four games and have done a great job of eliminating those emotional ups and downs that plagued them early in the season. As they approach the quarter pole of the season they find themselves in the top spot in not only the Atlantic Division, but the Eastern Conference and look poised to stay there.
As we reported in our last update, the Penguins traded Ben Lovejoy to the Anaheim Ducks. A move that isn’t shocking in the least. It was pretty obvious that the team didn’t have a spot for Lovejoy and with the emergence for Despres/Bortuzzo and Niskanen getting closer to returning, there was even less room at the inn.
Stay tuned for more later.