PENGUINS 5 – ISLANDERS 2
As the Penguins hit game No. 10 tonight under Mike Sullivan, we’re now seeing that adrenaline rush from the players take shape with the coaching change the last two games.
It’s like the players realized the bull cutters work and the shackles from Mike Johnston’s system have been removed from their ankles. They have new found freedom in that they’re allowed to play offense first and boy are they loving it.
The Penguins’ looked like they came out of a cannon tonight in the first period, the faster and more aggressive team, winning almost every key puck battle and most importantly led 2-0 after twenty minutes with goals from Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.
When the Islanders had their push early in the second period, Marc Andre Fleury came up with timely saves, and then the Penguins made Matt Martin pay for a bad boarding penalty to take a commanding 3-0 lead on Sidney Crosby’s second power play goal of the game.
The Penguins scored three special team goals, two power play markers from Crosby and a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen.
“Power play gave us momentum, Mike Sullivan said.
There’s been many situations this season against quality teams and even teams with youth like the Coyotes where the Penguins looked like the slower and lethargic team on the ice. Adding Trevor Daley in place of Rob Scuderi has made the Penguins quicker on the backend but the Penguins often looking like a slow hockey team under Mike Johnston may have also been system oriented too.
That was one of the biggest developments tonight against an Islanders team that all last season the Penguins constantly struggled to match their speed and puck possession ability.
Isn’t it amazing how much quicker a team looks when it’s playing offense first and it’s players are not asked to leave the defensive zone together as a five man unit. It’s also something that the Penguins look the best they have all season in their last five periods of hockey when Sidney Crosby is playing his best hockey of the season.
Crosby pre-concussion is likely never returning but this is what you get when you’re not trying to make him be Paul Gaustad. Crosby is also taking it upon himself in being a consistent force in around net once again.
You can also put Kris Letang into the discussion there. When the Penguins are rolling like they were tonight, Letang is often playing at an elite level and he surely was tonight.
Letang had 3 assists in the win and it was his decision making in the transition game that might have been most valuable. What a slick play he made below the goal line leading to Cullen’s shorthanded goal.
Maybe these last five periods are just a mirage but maybe the Penguins were really playing a junior system under Johnston.
If anything Sullivan is putting the right foundation in place in how the Penguins should be playing and two of the Penguins most important players, Crosby and Letang, are starting to find their game.
“I’m thrilled for them that they’re getting rewarded for their efforts,” Sullivan said of his top guys starting to breakout. “They’re playing the right way. Most part making pretty good decisions…..They’re buying in.”