Staal; Crosby’s Trick Push Pens Past Sabres

Interesting turn of events at Mellon Arena tonight…first of all, Brent Johnson did not start the game. Marc Andre Fleury is in the net and Jay McKee was a healthy scratch.

Obviously I am live at Mellon Arena and bringing you all of the action… We have already had our first goal, as just :48 seconds into the game, the Penguins drew first blood. Tyler Kennedy created what amounted to a 3 on 1 break by using his speed to gather a loose puck from just inside the Penguins blue line.

Kennedy took off up the ice and drove towards the net before making a pass through defenseman Chris Butler and onto the stick of Mark Letestu, who tapped it in behind Ryan Miller.

Great to see Letestu pick up his first goal in the National Hockey League hours after mentioning that he was feeling a bit down and out since the other WBS call-ups had all scored goals thus far…

1-0 Penguins…

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Nick Johnson was whistled for holding… Sabres on the PP…

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The Sabres made good on their power play as Derek Roy flipped a rebound behind Marc Andre Fleury. It wasn’t the most impressive goal that I have ever seen Fleury allow and I am sure he wishes he played the entire play a bit differently. Roy sort of did a spin-0-rama into the net…


Moments later Fleury allowed another suspect goal, as Thomas Vanek took a pass and walked down the right wing… he didn’t even make a move, but gave a shoulder fake before flipping the puck over Fleury’s shoulder for the Sabres second goal of the game…

2-1 Sabres…

No offense to MAF, but maybe they should have stuck with the Johnson decision… Fleury just doesn’t look ready….

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Ruslan Fedotenko was called for interference… Pens short handed again…

Though they got the Letestu goal right off the bat, they aren’t off to a great start…

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Jordan Staal is flying tonight. He has really been playing some great hockey as of late. He just used his speed to blow by the defense and get himself a great scoring opportunity. Unfortunately he shot the puck wide….

Though he is in the middle of a prolonged goal scoring drought, he is doing so many things right that he is bound to get one soon enough…

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They Penguins have had several odd man breaks after the one they scored on, but they are getting a little too cute with the puck. Get it too the net and good things will happen…

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At the first intermission the Sabres are leading 2-1… they are outshooting the Penguins 12-8 and have had some great chances. The Penguins have had their share of chances, but they have not been able to beat Ryan Miller after their initial goal :43 seconds into the game.

Dan Bylsma has been shuffling his lines throughout the game… it has look at times as if he is literally picking the names out of a hat. Using that approach has succeeded in producing some good shifts and in getting Crosby and Malkin away from Buffalo checkers. We will see if he continues to use that to his advantage.

Overall, we just saw a sloppy period of Penguins hockey… sloppy in all aspects of the game. Fleury started slowly, the offense has overpassed the puck and they as a whole need to get back to what they were doing yesterday afternoon.

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Vanek is firing the puck tonight… just a great opportunity from the slot and just missed. The boys just cannot allow him to have that chance too often tonight…

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Tyler Kennedy just got himself a mini breakaway, but wasn’t able to walk the whole way in. He had to pull up and rip a shot from the right circle. Miller gobbled it up…

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Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke just had a mini two on one and Staal took the shot… it was the best play, but it went wide…

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The Sabres came right back with a textbook three on two and worked it to perfection… four Sabres touched the puck before Tim Kennedy finally one timed the puck right under the crossbar for his 6th goal of the season.

3-1 Sabres…

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The Penguins got themselves a power play and used it to claw back into this game….

Bill Guerin got the puck along the left wing boards and took a couple of strides before dropping the puck to Geno Malkin… Malkin went center point to Alex Goligoski, who faked a shot…slid a pass over to Sidney Crosby who one timed it from about 2 feet above the goal line… the puck found paydirt for his 35th goal of the season…

3-2 Sabres….

The goal ties Crosby with Alex Ovechkin for 2nd in the league…

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Sidney Crosby just showed off some of his individual skill as he carried the puck up the right wing board… he went through a defender at the red line, kept control and got intoi the zone before finally getting the puck to the net. He almost got to his own rebound…. He again collected the puck behind the net and the team controlled the puck in the zone for a while longer before Buffalo finally got the clear….

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Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal again showed why they are very intriguing playing on the same line…

The duo got a break into the zone and Malkin slid a pass across to Jordan Staal that he was able to one time through Ryan Miller‘s legs and in for the Penguins third and tying goal.

As I mentioned earlier, Staal has been due for that goal for a looong time and it goes as his 14th of the year.

3 up ….

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The Penguin started to look like the harder working team at about the 4 minute mark of the second period. They have been getting to the loose pucks and buzzing around the ice like bees protecting their hive…. huge momentum swing…

An even bigger momentum swing occurred when Ryan Miller went behind the net to play the puck and threw it blindly into the left wing circle, where Sidney Crosby was streaking into the zone. Crosby one timed the shot…Miller got a piece of it as he slid back into the crease, but it wasn’t enough to keep it out. Puck crossed the line and the Pens suddenly lead 4-3….

Unbelievable… Crosby just notched the hat trick!

He was calling for the puck like a man possessed as he crossed center red… Kris Letang got the pass up too him and he was off on a two on one with Pascal Dupuis. Sid did his Mr. Moves impression, brought the defender down as he faked pass and then ripped a shot past Miller picking the far post for his third goal of the game.

5-3 Penguins…

It also so happens that there is a very “flingable” giveaway this evening in the form of a tote bag…. send bag of the season that was given right back!

It is also worth noting that this is the final game of Cameron Walsh’s Penguins experience… I just watched as he flung his hat to the ice along with 17,029 of his newest Pittsburgh Mates!

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It is amazing how confident Crosby is in his shot these days. There were times in the past when he surely would have passed on the shot he took to score his hat trick. It has been amazing to watch him transform from a pass first player into a guy who can be considered a true finisher. Make no mistake, he is still wracking up assists, as his ratio now sits at 37/31… that’s balance…

The team just kicked into overdrive from about the 4:00 minute mark of the period and they haven’t looked back… they have gotten to all of the loose pucks, started to outwork the Sabres on every trip up the ice and have start to get the breaks… something that tends to happen when you are playing well.

This is not over by a long shot, but I feel a lot better than I did during the first intermission… much easier to play a third period in the back end of back to back games when you are leading by two goals.

The craziest stat of the night is that the Penguins have only put 18 shots on Ryan Miller, but have touched him for five goals. The Penguins have now managed 8 goals against Miller on their last 29 shots against him.

Miller has come out to start the third period…

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The Sabres took a very early penalty as Jochen Hecht tripped Sidney Crosby right at the goal mouth…. the Penguins are back on the power play…

The boys were not able to score, but they got some great pressure and very good puck movement… at one point Evgeni Malkin actually beat Miller with a shot from the right point, but it deflected off of Bill Guerin and out as he was standing in the crease behind the Sabres goaltender…

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Dan Bylsma just skated a line of Nick Johnson, Mark Letestu and Mike Rupp… nice to see him have such confidence in his two young AHL call ups…

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Bylsma has stuck with that line as well… nice to see them working hard in the offensive zone. Would love to see them get a goal…

Letestu was 4-1 in the circle through two periods… not too shabby for a youngster…

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Nights like tonight you can really appreciate having Staal, Malkin and Crosby on one team…when they are all going on all cylinders this team is close to unbeatable… they are all going tonight and all three of them have had monster nights… not all in the stats department, but in shots on goal, chances, dominance in the defensive zone… They are just on right now…

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From Earlier

First of all, I haven’t gotten to comment on this, so congratulations to Evgeni Malkin for winning the 2009 Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year Award! It is a big honor to win the award in this town and he joins a long list of great Pittsburgh athletes who have won it in the past. Sidney Crosby has already won it twice in his young career and Geno was thrilled get into the club…

“I am so excited,” Malkin said. “It is an award that Sid has won twice before. I had a great year. It feels good to win. I can’t stop performing. I need to keep working every year so that I can keep reaching the next level.”

Malkin’s 2009 was an impressive one that saw him win the Art Ross and Conn Smythe Trophies en route to helping the Penguins hoist their third Stanley Cup… the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year award is a very fitting bookend to a great season for the 23 year old.

I think the DDA was a nice boost to Malkin’s confidence, as he has been playing some very inspired hockey since finding out that he was nominated for the award. His improved play has also been attributed to a hand full of meetings that he had with the coaching staff, at least in his own estimation.

“I had a couple meetings with the coaches and they helped me change my game to get me back to the level I was at last season,” Malkin said. “Now I feel very good out there.”

It seems that the coaching staff has also made some changes to the line-up and its configuration that have helped Geno out. They have shifted him to the right half wall on the power play, getting him off of the point, a position that he hasn’t been thrilled playing in the past. The move has opened up his options with the extra man and he has started to get himself into prime shooting areas a lot more often.

The coaching staff has also experimented with a couple of new wingers. Nick Johnson has played with Malkin on and off since being recalled from Wilkes Barre-Scranton and the two have developed some chemistry. Geno has also skated more than a few shifts with Jordan Staal…someone who he has had great success with in the past.

Look for Malkin’s hot streak to continue, as he has always been a strong second half performer during his career. It is also worth noting that his parents will be heading over to North America to watch their son compete in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. They will then return to Pittsburgh where they will stay for the remainder of the season… great news for Geno, bad news for the NHL. If there is one way to get Malkin clicking on all cylinders, it is to place his parents in the stands.

Optional Skate:

The Penguins held an optional skate this morning at Mellon Arena which say Craig Adams, Mike Rupp, Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu, Nick Johnson, Jay McKee, Alex Goligoski, Martin Skoula, Kris Letang and Brent Johnson take the ice.

Johnson Gets the Call:

After beating the Detroit Red Wings yesterday afternoon, Marc Andre Fleury will get tonight off in favor of Brent Johnson. Johnson will be contested by the Sabres Ryan Miller who has been playing some amazing hockey for his club.

Most involved are expecting tonight’s affair to be very similar to that of the 2-1 victory scratched out by the Penguins yesterday.

“Buffalo has a good goalie, Miller, who’s playing real well, and I think it could be the same game,” Malkin said.

Letestu Gaining Confidencet:

Mark Letestu, who filled in on the Penguins third line yesterday while Jordan Staal skated with Malkin and Pascal Dupuis, is starting to feel a bit more comfortable with the parent club. However, that doesn’t mean he has completely settled in.

“Originally, coming up here, it was pretty overwhelming for me,” Letestu said. “But, I thought we played real well. We dominated most of the game. Hopefully our confidence is high rolling into the next one.”

He went on to add that he has some pretty big shoes to fill.

“Obviously I’m not Jordan Staal, but I’m hopefully filling in the best that I can.”

Letestu’s fellow Wilkes Barre-Scranton call-ups (Nick Johnson and Chris Conner) have put the pressure on him by each notching goals this season.

“I think everyone from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has scored, so I have to get one in here soon.”

Trade Chatter:

I have been asked quite a few times over the past two days about the names RJ Umberger and Raffi Torres… I will say this much, the Penguins had interest in RJ Umberger before he originally signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers, but I hadn’t heard him mentioned in a rumor until Mark Madden brought him up this weekend. Madden’s mention seemed to spark some talk that come out Columbus over the weekend. Overall, I wouldn’t count on it unless he is available on the cheap, which I doubt he would be.

Torres is a player whose name has been tied to the Penguins on numerous occasions, but I just don’t think he is the answer. Strikes me as being too similar to players like Talbot, Dupuis and Craig Adams… though he has a bit more offensive upside.

As far as scouts go…only Philadelphia and Minnesota were in the building yesterday. We will see tonight.

In my opinion, the dust from all of yesterday’s moves is going to have to settle before the Penguins get involved in anything.

Toronto’s Moves Benefit the Penguins?

Getting Jason Blake out of the Eastern Conference is huge for the Penguins. It seems that the diminutive forward has a knack for burning them and has done so on a regular basis since his days on Long Island. If there was a silver lining in bring the monster that is Dion Phaneuf into the conference, it was that of Blake making his exit. Small victories are always worth tracking…

XM Home Ice:

I will be on XM Home Ice before and after tonight’s game. Listen for me with Boomer Gordon at 6:25pm EST as we preview the game and at 10:20 with Jamie Shalley as we discuss the aftermath.

Versus Game Previews from Garth and Metzer: