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Insider Only Lightning – Penguins 5 Thoughts: On Crosby/Neal line, Martin an early Norris candidate, Bennett, & ideal 3rd line

nhl_g_crosby_gb1_576PITTSBURGH 5 – TAMPA BAY 3

Post-Game Buzz: Sidney Crosby (9) had 2 goals and an assist leading the Pittsburgh Penguins (13-6-0, 26 pts) to a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning (9-8-1, 19 pts) on Sunday night.
Paul Martin (3) and Matt Cooke (3) each had a goal and an assist and Kris Letang had two assists, extending his points streak to five games. Goaltender Marc Andre Fleury made 27 saves earning his 10th win of season and 8th win in his last nine games.
“The team’s been playng great in front, so it’s been a help” Fleury said of his play.
Steven Stamkos (13), Cory Conacher (7) and Eric Brewer (4) scored for the Lightning.
Pittsburgh jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, getting two goals from Crosby 7:15 into the game and Paul Martin put home a Matt Cooke rebound with 34 seconds left in the period as the Penguins went to the intermission leading 3-0 with what might have been their best period of the season
As expected the high scoring Lightning didn’t go away and Eric Brewer scored 1:37 into the second period to cut the Penguins lead to 3-1 and the Penguins got into penalty trouble and Steven Stamkos scored a 5-on-3 power play goal at 3:14 of the period to make it a one goal game.
The Penguins power play, though, would get the two goal lead back with hard work.
Beau Bennett drew a an Eric Brewer interference penalty at 11:03 of the period and then 42 seconds later Chris Kunitz drew an interference penalty giving the Penguins a 5-on-3.
The Penguins would strike quickly and Bennett would then collect his first career NHL goal at 12:20 of the second period extending the Penguins lead to 4-2. Kris Letang made a great play keeping the puck in the zone and quickly moved the puck over to Sidney Crosby who broke the PK down and make a perfect pass to Bennett stationed on the left side for a one-timer goal past Garon.
Bennett’s goal would end up being the game winning goal.
“It felt pretty good,” Bennett said of the goal “Get a big win with it as well and it goes hand in hand. It felt awesome.”
The power play goal marked the 11th straight game the Penguins have scored a power play goal. The Penguins are third in the NHL at 28.0% on the power play this season.
“This morning he {Beau Bennett} was there and seemed to have a pretty good knack for finding the open lane,” Crosby said of Bennett’s goal. “Tanger made an unbelievable play to get that puck and get it over. You know Beau knows where to go over there. He’s a pretty gifted player.”
The Lightning made it a one goal game again early in the third period when Cory Conacher scored 3:15 into the period but the Penguins would hold on and Matt Cooke added an empty net goal to seal the win.
5 THOUGHTS
1. Kunitz – Crosby – Neal line could be scary good: I loved the look of the Kunitz – Crosby – Neal line. Crosby has never had a goal scorer of Neal’s caliber on his line since Marian Hossa and just the mix of what all three bring to the table was something to watch. They had chemistry from the first minute together and that’s what Sidney Crosby does. Unless the Penguins acquire a legitimate top-6 forward, it’s hard to envision keeping them together when Malkin returns but this line could be scary good. One thing that stood out for me is that Neal has been an issue in his own end when playing with Malkin (who also hasn’t has been good in that area). With Crosby, Neal won’t be that much of an issue defensively. Crosby can make up for it. “Thought Crosby line did a good job in defensive situations away from the puck,” Bylsma said.
2. Is Paul Martin an early Norris candidate? Paul Martin had a goal and an assist in the win, giving him 14 points on the season. Martin is now third in the NHL among defensemen in points. With his play defensively at even strength, how he’s upgraded the Penguins power play as the power play quarterback, and producing offensively among the top defensemen in the game, Martin has emerged as an early Norris candidate. He’s unlikely to keep putting the points up he is right now but there’s no denying he is among the shortlist of candidates so far that also includes Kris Letang.
3. Ideal Third line: The Penguins figuring out their third line is going to be critical come playoff time. In the third period Bylsma went to a third line of Matt Cooke, Brandon Sutter and Pascal Dupuis, and the three were impressive together, providing speed, some grittiness and forechecking ability. “As game went on switched Cooke to Sutter and Dupuis {for} more of a checking situation,” Bylsma said. “Thought it went well.” This is the Penguins ideal third line but it’s a combination Bylsma really can’t go to long-term until the Penguins find another top-6 forward to go with Kunitz, Neal and Bennett on the wings.
4. Bennett collects 1st NHL goal: Beau Bennett collected his first NHL goal, scoring a power play goal at 12:20 of the second period in what ended up being the game winning goal. On the goal Kris Letang made a great play to keep the puck in the zone and moved the puck over to Crosby who broke down the PK and slide a pass over Bennett who buried a one-timer past Garon. In 5 NHL games Bennett is very poised and mature for a 21 year old. The moment hasn’t been too big for him. As his shot is still not at full strength and probably won’t be this season due to his wrist injury from last year, I don’t think he’s going to put up big numbers this season but he’s showing he can play in the NHL and his overall game is much better than I expected it to be. “Beau is a high end offensive skilled type of guy,” Bylsma said. “More of a top-6 type of player. In terms of finding a spot on the team, it came through his play away from the puck,” Bylsma said.
5. Three points Nights: Steven Stamkos (13G-16A-29Pts) and Sidney Crosby (9G-19A-28Pts) both entered the game one point separated from each other for the NHL points lead and that’s how things ended after sixty minutes of play. Both players produced three point nights with Crosby having 2 goals and an assist, while Stamkos had a goal and two assists. Expect both of these players to be neck and neck for the NHL points lead the rest of the way and things to go down to the wire. Stamkos has 29 points in 18 games and Crosby has 28 points in 19 games. Both players are on pace to surpass the 70 points Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros had in the NHL’s last 48 game season in 1995. Stamkos is on pace for 77 points.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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