The Penguins extended their winning streak to 9 games Saturday night with a 7-2 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh now has a tie for the best record in the NHL at 18-8-2, good for 38 points.
There is a special feel about this team right now and tonight’s game wasn’t just about the seven goals they put up or Sidney Crosby extending his points streak to 15 and being on a Mario Lemieux type run.
This is a closely knit team that is coming prepared to dominate and that was clear from the drop of the puck tonight against a Columbus team that, yes, the Penguins match up very well against based on the system Columbus plays but this was also a Blue Jackets team coming off a 5-0 loss and were certain to come out hard.
The Blue Jackets were in the game for maybe a shift or two. Pittsburgh’s battle level was excellent and once again players played their role to perfection.
The Penguins play from their 4th line of Mike Rupp, Craig Adams and Eric Godard stood out to me early in the game. Rupp and Adams were winning puck battles left and right and even Eric Godard got into the action. That’s how things are going for the Penguins and I can’t stop stressing how important the Penguins “team concept” they have developed is to the team’s success.
Chris Conner continues to earn points with head coach Dan Bylsma and he’s really making things interesting for when the Penguins get Jordan Staal back.
Conner was doing all of the little things, making key blocks, winning battles in the offensive zone and one noticeable aspect of his game is the poise he’s starting to get in the offensive zone. Conner is looking more confident which could go a long way to solidifying a spot.
A play that jumps out was on Conner’s first shift of the game, Tyler Kennedy made a great play off the boards in the defensive zone, chipping the puck out to Conner who came in 1-on-1 and made a great 1-on-1 shot that almost got past Mason.
The “consistent” play of the Penguins third line has been a surprise during this stretch.
Defensively, the Penguins gave Marc Andre Fleury another easy night. The continuity among the top-6 is really coming together. The Penguins are stout defensively and now 3rd in the NHL in goals against, giving up just 2.36 goals per game.
The talk around the league is that the Penguins are getting it done without Jordan Staal and mediocre play from Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin was a late scratch after the staff ruled him out. His injury is just a nagging knee bruise and is not serious by any means.
“It’s not overly serious, ” Bylsma said in his post-game comments. “It’s not a structural problem or anything. He’s just banged up.”
Malkin has 22 points on the season in 25 games.
This is a topic for another day this week but the Penguins are going to need Malkin to play at an elite level this season for them to win another championship, especially when it comes to getting out of the east this season against the likes of Philadelphia and Montreal.
Secondary scoring could still show up as an achilles heel if Malkin doesn’t find his game this season.
Sidney Crosby is on a special run that few players go on. Leading the NHL with 23 goals and 46 points, Crosby has 17 goals and 14 assists during his current 15 game points streak.
What’s been unique about his streak is of course his battle level but the way and kind of goals he’s scoring has made this such a special run. Crosby’s 8 goals in his last 4 games, is tied for the best stretch of his career.
Brooks Orpik suffered a scare early in the game when Rick Nash leveled Orpik face first into the boards. There was no penalty on the play and it could have went either way. Orpik did take a bad angle to puck which put him in that position. He is fine.
The Penguins cancelled their scheduled practice for Sunday. They will return to the ice Monday morning.
Penguins by the Numbers
38 Pts – Tied for the NHL points lead with Washington
NHL Best Road Record – 10-3-1 record on the road, winners of 6 straight
Scoring First – 11-2 record
3.11 – Tied for 6th in the NHL in Goals For per game
2.36 – 3rd in the NHL in goals against per game
18.0% – Surged to 11th in the NHL on the power play
89.3% – 2nd in the NHL on the Penalty Kill