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Insider Only Pens – Lightning Post Game Analysis: Big guns shine in 4-2 win

Pittsburgh 4 – Tampa Bay 2

The Penguins big guns shined once again and Pittsburgh overcame another 2-0 deficit, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Sunday night at the Consol Energy Center.
Evgeni Malkin scored twice, James Neal had three assists and Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang each had a goal and two assists, leading the Penguins to victory.
Letang earned the games No. 1 star and logged a team-high 23:11 of ice time.
Brent Johnson made 21 saves to earn his first victory since December 3rd. Johnson added an assist and rebounded from a shaky start for his second straight encouraging start.
“It’s nice to see us get offense like that and don’t get down on ourselves 2-0 early, ” Johnson said on the Penguins not getting rattled after a slow start.
In the win, Evgeni Malkin scored goals 31 and 32 on the season, collecting points 68 and 69. Malkin had a tremendous weekend with 3 goals and 4 assists in two games but the Penguins other big guns also stepped up in a big way propelling Pittsburgh to back-to-back home wins.
Malkin, Neal, Kunitz and Letang combined for 11 points tonight and 25 points in the Penguins last two games.
A dominant night for the Penguins was met with falling behind once again in the first period.
Steve Downie opened the scoring at 9:58 of the first period and scored his second goal of the game 11 seconds later as the Lightning took a commanding 2-0 lead.
The Penguins who came into action with the No. 6 ranked power play, answered minutes later on the man-advantage as Evgeni Malkin blasted a one-timer past Mathieu Garon to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1 at 16:15 of the first period. The power play marker was Malkin’s 8th of the season.
Pittsburgh took over the game from there, finishing the game with four unanswered goals and outshot Tampa Bay 41-23 in the victory.
The Penguins were at their best in the second period where they completely tilted the ice in their advantage. “I thought our second period was perhaps our best of playing Pittsburgh Penguins hockey. {We} titled the ice, played with a lot of speed, ” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh improved to 32-19-5, 69 pts on the season.
TOP LINE DOMINANCE
The Penguins top line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal were dominant in all facets combining for 3 goals and 5 assists in the victory. From a puck possession game, the Lightning had no answers for The Big Three and it just didn’t seem fair at times. The three combined for 19 points in the Penguins victories this weekend against the Jets and Lightning.
Malkin’s Determination: The determination Evgeni Malkin is playng with right now is something I’ve never seen from him, even during his all-world play in 2008-2009. It was on display tonight as he has that killer instinct goal scorers mentality.
“Geno’s game is better than it was two years ago, ” defenseman Kris Letang said. “This is the first time I’ve seen him being this dominant.”
What we saw from the Lightning tonight is that they struggled mightily at defending Malkin in space. Tampa Bay either got caught giving Malkin too much space or leaning towards his side too much.
Malkin’s presence in the neutral zone led to two goals on the night.
On Malkin’s power play goal in the first period, he had possession in the neutral zone and moves the puck up to the left side where James Neal makes a great wall play just inside the Lightning’s zone getting the puck to Kris Letang at the top of blueline and Tampa Bay somehow loses track of Malkin and Letang makes a perfect feed to Malkin who blasts a one-timer past Garon and the Penguins were off to the races.
Another example of Malkin’s presence was on Chris Kunitz’s goal 56 seconds into the second period when Malkin didn’t even touch the puck. Kunitz coming with speed through the neutral zone suddenly see’s the middle of ice wide open due to the Lightning getting caught leaning to Malkin’s side thinking Kunitz is going his way with a pass.
“Two guys kind of went to him, ” Kunitz said on the play. He {Evgeni Malkin} was yelling for the puck.”
Kunitz does it all: Chris Kunitz had a three point night with a goal and two assists and capped off an excellent weekend with 2 goals and 5 assists in the Penguins two weekend victories.
Kunitz continues to flourish in all areas of his game, most notably when he doesn’t have the puck, making him one of the Penguins most important forwards. A prime example of that was on Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal when the Penguins entered the zone and Kunitz went to the net drawing two Lightning defenders to him leaving Evgeni Malkin wide open on the right side who one-timered a perfect feed from Kris Letang.
Home Goal Scoring Streak:Evgeni Malkin extended his home goal scoring streak to eight games, tying the record with James Neal for the longest home goal scoring streak since the 2005-2006 season. Mario Lemieux has the longest home goal scoring streak at 11 games (1995-1996), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
NOTES: Pittsburgh extended their home winning streak to six games and trailed in all six games……Malkin was 60% in the faceoff circle, winning 12 of 20 draws. In his last three games, Malkin is 62.5% on faceoffs (35 of 56)…….Cal O’Reilly had 0 shots on goal in 9:48 of ice time. O’Reilly has 1 shot on goal in his last three games…..Pittsburgh scratched Ben Lovejoy (healthy) and Tyler Kennedy (high ankle sprain)…..

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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