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Scifo on the Pens: Star-studded Pens win 14th straight, dominate Jets
By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
PITTSBURGH — As if the Pittsburgh Penguins needed any more help.
The Penguins, the league’s highest scoring team, had their way with the Winnipeg Jets, picking up their 14th consecutive victory during a 4-0 blowout Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
Add six-time All-Star forward Jarome Iginla to the mix of an already-star-studded club, ranked No. 1 in the league, and there’s no telling what the Penguins could accomplish this season.
The Penguins, however, aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves.
“We’re focused on making sure our game is where it needs to be,” Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby said. “With some new guys, it’s going to take some time to adjust, but there are areas we can improve, so we want to keep getting better.”
That shouldn’t prove too difficult. Not the way the Penguins have played the last month, and not with the talent the team recently added.
Iginla, the former Calgary Flames captain, was acquired early Thursday morning in a stunning blockbuster trade, the Pens’ third key acquisition of the week, but also their biggest. The Penguins landed Dallas Stars’ captain Brenden Morrow last Sunday and followed it up the next day by picking up big-bodied, bruising defenseman Douglas Murray, who made his debut against the Jets.
“They’re two great players,” Murray said of Iginla and Morrow. “I’ve played against them now for many years. They’re great competitors and great hockey players. It’s exciting.”
The biggest catch was Iginla, the top prize available before next week’s trade deadline, who was all but certain to go to Eastern Conference rival Boston Bruins before Penguins’ general manager Ray Shero swooped in.
“The main goal here is to win,” said forward Pascal Dupuis, who recorded his 200th point as a Penguin. “Everybody is working towards that.”
Iginla, the Flames’ all-time leading scorer who led Calgary to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, is also the No. 5 leading scorer among active players. Iginla, who waived his no-movement clause for a chance to win the Stanley Cup with Penguins’ superstars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, provides additional firepower to an already loaded lineup and the top-six winger the team has desired for years.
“Obviously Jarome Iginla is a proven all-star,” Pens’ forward Pascal Dupuis said. “Management is showing that they’re doing their part.”
Pittsburgh extended the second-longest win streak in franchise history to 14 games and are just three from the NHL and team record of 17 set by the 1992-93 Penguins. They’re also the first team in history to have two winning streaks of 14 or more games.
The Penguins, with the NHL’s longest win streak since New Jersey’s 13-game run in 2001, also equaled a franchise record of 11 straight home wins, established from Jan. 5 to March 7, 1991.
Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma isn’t worried about the streak as much as his team’s play.
“How many times we’ve won is not a big focus,” Bylsma said. “We’ve got to get better at our game and how we play. That is still our focus right now.”
Malkin scored a goal Thursday after sitting out the last nine games with an upper-body injury, Chris Kunitz added his team-best 20th of the season, and Dupuis scored twice, his 16th and 17th of the year.
Crosby had two assists, his sixth straight game with a point, which extended his league-leading total in the scoring race to 56 points — 12 ahead of Kunitz, who is in second place.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 20 shots for his sixth straight victory and second shutout of the season, becoming the 26th goaltender in league history with 50 shutouts. Vokoun started for Marc-Andre Fleury, who left Tuesday’s game against Montreal with an upper-body injury.
“It’s pretty amazing, the number of shutouts he has,” Bylsma said of Vokoun. “Fifty is a big number. That’s a lot of shutouts.”
It’s the second time in team history the Penguins, coming off a 1-0 victory against Montreal Tuesday, registered shutouts in consecutive games — the other coming between Feb 8-10, 1993. Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed a goal in 1:48.24 minutes, the last one scored by Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux at 14:09 of the second period, March 24.
Part of the reason has been the Penguins suffocating stretch of defensive play.
Pittsburgh, 19-0 when allowing two or fewer goals, has held the opposition to less than two goals for 10 straight games, surrendering just nine goals during that span. The Penguins, who won nine of their last 10 games by one goal, are 11-1 in one-goal games and 8-4 in contests decided by two goals.
The biggest defensive stand Thursday came early in the third period when the Pens successfully killed off a Jets’ five-on-three power-play that lasted almost the entire two minutes. Winnipeg managed just two shots, one a sharp pad save from Vokoun at the top of the crease, as Penguin penalty-killers cleared the net, stayed in shooting lanes and gave up the body, blocking three shots.
“You saw our mindset going over the boards in the five-on-three,” Bylsma said. “We were ready to defend and do whatever it took in terms of protecting our goalie and blocking shots.”
The Penguins also carried the play offensively, outshooting the Jets, 43-20, while keeping the play in the Winnipeg zone.
“We were in the offensive zone a lot and I think we made it tough on them,” Crosby said. “We definitely kept our foot on the gas.”
It took 15 minutes for either team to score, but the Penguins changed that, finding the back net three times on their next five shots to turn a once-tight game into a blowout.
Crosby, operating below the goal-line, sent a no-look, behind-the-back feed to Kunitz, who rifled a wrist shot behind Al Montoya, making just his fourth start of the year.
The Penguins thought they took a two-goal lead three minutes later as fans came out of their seat and the goal horn even sounded, but Dupuis hit the post to the left of Montoya.
Malkin took care of things 30 seconds later, giving the Pens a 2-0 lead with his sixth of the season from the top of the crease. The goal, which hit off his skate before going in, needed a video review before it was official.
Dupuis extended the Penguins’ lead to three goals less than five minutes into the second period, finishing a one-time feed from Kunitz.
Dupuis capped the scoring later in the second with a short-handed goal, beating Montoya to the short-side during a two-on-one rush.
It was just another win during what has turned into a magical stretch of 14 straight. But it’s a streak the Penguins aren’t concerned about at the moment, not when there’s a bigger prize ahead.
“The streak is nice, and it’s a result of our hard work, but it doesn’t really mean anything,” Crosby said. “I don’t think anyone is going to remember that come playoff time. We want to make sure we’re doing the right things to prepare for the playoffs.”
NOTES: This is the third straight year Kunitz has scored at least 20 goals…The Penguins are 12-0 since defenseman Mark Eaton returned to the lineup Feb. 25…If the Penguins win Saturday at home against the New York Islanders, they become the first team in NHL history to post a perfect record in a calendar month…The Penguins are 15-0 when leading after two periods…Thursday’s victory was the first game the Penguins won without a power play chance since 2000.