MORNING PENS BUZZ
With seven games remaining in the regular season, it’s not a stretch to say Sidney Crosby is close to being fully back. While Crosby didn’t have his biggest night on the scoresheet, he dazzled offensively and aside from a gaffe he made behind his own net 5:10 into the first period that led to a Zach Parise goal, Crosby played a dominant two-way game in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night, moving one point behind the New York Rangers for first place and the conference.
With a goal and an assist, Crosby was spectacular at both ends of the ice in the win, amassing 19:53 of ice time and winning 63.2% of his draws.
His ability defensively to turn defense into offense is what at times separates him from the rest and that was on display last night.
With Pittsburgh leading 2-1 late in the second period, Crosby wins a 1-on-1 battle against David Clarkson behind the net in the defensive zone and then quickly gets up the ice creating a 2-on-1 with Craig Adams and Crosby drives to the net on the Adams shot and Pascal Dupuis puts home his 23rd of the season as Pittsburgh takes a 3-1 lead going into the third period.
(Video courtesy of NHL.com)
In the third period, Crosby then finished off a nearly identical play from earlier in the game where he toyed with Marek Zidlicky for the second time, intercepting a pass at New Jersey’s blue line and while skating backwards pirouetted around Zidlicky and then raced in all alone, beating Martin Brodeur with a quick wrist shot that Brodeur didn’t have a chance on giving Pittsburgh a commanding 4-2 third period.
“A special goal,” winger Pascal Dupuis said who scored his 23rd goal of the season in the win. “You see Evgeni Malkin make that move, Jordan, it takes a special player to make that move.”
“It was very identical to the one he did earlier,” Head coach Dan Bylsma said about the goal “The puck is bouncing through neutral zone and Sid is able to get a stick on it and slide by defenseman at same time. â¦ It’s not unlike Sidney Crosby to pull that off.”
Crosby has 25 points in 15 games this season, and 13 points in seven games since returning to the lineup on March 15th.
While Crosby’s inching closer to top form, another big plus for the Penguins last night was Jordan Staal scoring, snapping an 8 game goal less streak. Staal using his long reach beat Brodeur blocker side for his 23rd of the season and just 2nd goal in his last 14 games. We’ll see if this gets him going in the goal department again.
Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin upped his NHL-leading points total to 97 by scoring an empty net goal with 1:32 remaining and also added an assist in the win.
Marc Andre Fleury earned his 41st win of the season, setting a career high in wins. He’s one win away from Tom Barrasso’s career mark of 226 and he’s two away from tying Barrasso’s season mark of 43 wins in 1992-1993.
The Penguins 14-1-1 in their last 16 games, are putting up Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s goal scoring type numbers.
During their 16 game stretch, the Penguins have scored 69 goals, averaging 4.31 goals per game.
Since Sidney Crosby returned on March 15th, Pittsburgh has scored 34 goals, averaging 4.86 goals per game.
Personnel wise, this is the most prolific offensive group the Penguins have had since the 2007-2008 season when Pittsburgh’s lineup consisted of Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Hossa, Sykora, and Malone upfront with the likes of Gonchar, Whitney and Letang on the backend.
The big difference now from then is that Crosby, Malkin and Staal are even better now.
When the Penguins are on, a team has to be nearly perfect to beat them.
“Tough building, tough team and you’ve got to come in here prepared to play almost a perfect game and we didn’t do that,” Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said last night.
RACE FOR 1ST
The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins each have seven game remaining, with the Rangers leading Pittsburgh by one point. Both teams have a tough schedule remaining in their final handful of games, most notably the Penguins who face Buffalo, Philadelphia twice, the Rangers and Boston in their final five games. The Penguins though get the Flyers and Rangers at home where they’re 27-8-2.
PENGUINS REMAINING SCHEDULE
3/27 New York Islanders (31-33-11, 73 pts)
3/29 @ New York Islanders (31-33-11, 73 pts)
3/30 @ Buffalo (37-29-10, 84 pts)
4/1 vs Philadelphia (44-23-8, 96 pts)
4/3 @ Boston (44-28-3, 91 pts)
4/5 vs New York Rangers (47-21-7, 101 pts)
4/7 vs Philadelphia (44-23-8, 96 pts)
RANGERS REMAINING SCHEDULE
3/27 @ Minnesota (31-34-10, 72 pts)
3/29 @ Winnipeg (35-32-8, 78 pts)
3/30 vs Montreal (29-34-13, 71 pts)
4/1 vs Boston (44-28-3, 91 pts)
4/3 @ Philadelphia (44-23-8, 96 pts)
4/5 @ Pittsburgh (47-22-6, 100 pts)
4/7 vs Washington (38-30-8, 84 pts)