By Dan Scifo
From the Point Contributing Writer
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins finally got the start they wanted. The Penguins fell behind by two goals during weekend home games at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, but were able to rally for victories against Winnipeg and Tampa Bay.
It was a different story, in more ways than one, Wednesday night against Anaheim as the Penguins jumped on the Ducks early and scored in the first 10 minutes of the game.
But they couldn’t capitalize as Anaheim’s Temmu Selanne dumped a backhander behind Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 7:51 of the third period, helping the Ducks recover from a slow start, rally for a 2-1 victory and snap the Penguins’ six-game home winning streak.
“We really couldn’t get the game back after the first 10 minutes,” said Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma. “We did have opportunities, but didn’t come up with good scoring chances, and when we did have shots, they collapsed around their goaltender, and blocked some shots.”
The Ducks might be the 13th-place team in the Western Conference, but they are 14-3-3 since Jan. 1, partly because of head coach Bruce Boudreau, who dominated the Penguins with eight straight regular-season victories as head coach of the Washington Capitals before he was fired in December.
A Boudreau-led team was able to leave the Steel City with another win as this time, Ducks’ goaltender Jonas Hiller stopped 25 shots and Corey Perry, last year’s NHL MVP, notched his 28th of the season for Anaheim, which won in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2001.
The Ducks were also able to shut down Penguins’ superstar forward Evgeni Malkin, who didn’t score for the first time in eight home games and was held without a point for the second time this month. His linemates, James Neal and Chris Kunitz didn’t have much luck either.
The trio, which comprises arguably the best line in the National Hockey League, has combined for 95 points since December 10, scoring 42 goals and 53 assists for an average of 3.52 points per game. They were at it again this past weekend, combining for 19 points in a sweep of the Jets and Lightning, but Malkin, who has 17 goals and nine assists the past 18 games, and his linemates couldn’t get it done against the Ducks.
“Geno was still buzzing around and making plays,” Kunitz said. “Maybe we’re used to pucks bouncing our way and we didn’t get that tonight.”
The Penguins were involved in a pair of high-scoring affairs during the weekend, falling behind by two goals against Winnipeg and Anaheim before exploding to outscore the opposition 12-7 in back-to-back victories.
This time, the Penguins scored in the first 10 minutes of the game, getting the jump on an Anaheim team that played in a hard-fought, come-from-behind third-period win at Minnesota the night before.
“We played about eight minutes extremely well,” Bylsma said. “Tonight, they didn’t get a shot on net until we gave them an opportunity to get there and at that point they started getting their legs back and getting into the game.
“We didn’t give them much, and then we had a series of turnovers that allowed them to get exactly what they needed.”
Jordan Staal staked the Penguins to exactly what they needed, which was a 1-0 advantage at 6:27 of the first with his 17th of the year.
Staal, on a two-on-one, unleashed a wicked wrist shot past Hiller underneath the crossbar on the blocker side to put the Penguins on top.
But that’s all the Ducks would allow.
“We had a great start and there were definitely opportunities where we could’ve found a way to bury them,” Staal said. “We kind of slowly let them back in the game with one too many turnovers. They found a way to get the puck past our goalie and they definitely took over the game toward the end.”
It started with a pair of sparkling stops on the same shift early in the second period. First, Fleury denied Jason Blake, fully extending his left pad so the Ducks’ forward could not slip a rebound between the post and the leg of the Penguins’ goaltender. Fleury followed it up later that shift with a sprawling pad save on Perry.
Fleury also came up with a sharp glove save, snagging Cam Fowler’s power-play blast from the air, and later stopped Niklas Hagman during a short-handed breakaway.
Meanwhile, Malkin, who leads the league with 69 points and ranks second in the NHL with 32 goals, nearly put the Penguins up by two, but he hit the post to the right of Hiller.
That allowed Perry to finally solve the Penguins’ goaltender in the final minute of the period after he got around Penguins’ defenseman Zbynek Michalek and snuck his 28th of the season underneath Fleury to tie the game.
“They have a lot of skill out there and when they get going it’s tough to take the puck away from them,” Michalek said. “They spent a lot of time in our defensive zone and when we did get the puck, we didn’t execute.”
A prime example was on the game-winner when the 41-year-old Selanne scored his 19th of the season just seconds after a dominating shift that saw the Penguins in Anaheim territory for what seemed like eternity.
Selanne, on an odd-man rush, took a pass from Matt Beleskey and faked a shot on the forehand, before turning to his backhand and depositing a shot behind Fleury. Selanne’s goal was the 656th of his career, tying him with Brendan Shanahan for 12th place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.
“They’re very good in the offensive zone and we gave them opportunities with our puck management,” Bylsma said. “They carried the play largely because of how we managed the puck.”
**In addition to his work here at FTP, Dan Scifo is the Assistant Sports Editor for the Latrobe Bulletin.