PENS – SABRES FALLOUT
The Penguins got a four point night from Sidney Crosby, produced two power play goals, played a responsible game defensively and Brent Johnson who was shaky at times, made timely saves in the third period for Pittsburgh in their 5-3 road win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
With the team in the midst of a mini-slump, Crosby led the way collecting a goal and three assists, posting his third four point game in 18 games this season.
Crosby also hit the 600 point mark in his career, becoming the seventh youngest player in NHL history to reach 600 points at 24 years, 236 days.
An intriguing storyline after the game wasn’t just the Penguins moving four points ahead of the Flyers for the No. 4 seed, it was Steve Sullivan and Sidney Crosby showing some chemistry together and deserving another look together on a line.
After going with the Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Pascal Dupuis unit Thursday night, head coach Dan Bylsma went back with the Kunitz – Malkin – Neal line, using Steve Sullivan on Crosby’s left wing with Pascal Dupuis on the right side.
It was a line Bylsma used in Wednesday’s practice, Crosby and Sullivan showed chemistry together in Friday’s win.
Sullivan (1 goal, 2 assists), Crosby (1 goal, 3 assists), and Pascal Dupuis (2 assists) combined for 9 points in the win and at even strength the line combined for 2 goals and 4 assists.
Sullivan is intriguing with Crosby from standpoint of his ability to get the puck to Crosby in scoring situations. While Sullivan doesn’t provide much of anything on the forecheck, the Penguins have a puck retriever on the line already with Pascal Dupuis. It’s a good mix and possibly a better combination than Sullivan – Malkin and Neal.
The issue with Sullivan – Malkin – Neal, is Malkin’s at his best with a winger who’s a force down low like Kunitz is and Ryan Malone was for him in 2007-2008. While James Neal’s not a perimeter player by any means, taking Kunitz away from them and using Sullivan, leaves no effective puck retriever on the line.
While it remains likely that Bylsma still goes back to Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis come playoff time, Sullivan could change that and deserves another look for a handful of games with Crosby.
***The Penguins having a strong night on the power play should put stupid talk of Crosby and Malkin being on separate units on the backburner for at least a day.
***Evgeni Malkin (48G-54A-102Pts) has set a career high in goals with 48. Coming into the season, the biggest key for Malkin re-emerging as one of the top-3 players in the game was whether he could become a premier goal scorer again. Malkin averaging 0.68 goals per game this season is a huge improvement over his previous three seasons. Malkin averaged 0.42 goals per game in 2008-2009, 0.42 goals per game in 2009-2010 and 0.35 goals per game in 2010-2011.
***Matt Niskanen logged 20:13 of ice time in his return to the lineup. Him in the lineup makes the Penguins a much better team on the blueline. He really fits when the coaching staff wants in their defensemen and they have interesting situation with him this summer as he’s a restricted free agent already making $1.75 million per season.
***Pascal Dupuis (24G-28A-52Pts) has the longest points streak in the NHL this season at 13 games. Who could have predicted that. Dupuis has 9 goals and 8 assists during his 13 game points streak and the Penguins are 20-2-1 in games Dupuis scores.
***James Neal (38G-41A-79Pts) enters Saturday’s action with a league leading 17 power play goals, after his power play marker last night. Overall, Neal ranks 4th in goals and 5th in points.
NHL PLAYOFF RACES
The New York Rangers maintained their five point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, defeating the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 last night. Pittsburgh and New York each have four games remaining……The Philadelphia Flyers with a game in hand on the Penguins, host the Ottawa Senators this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. It’s a crucial game for the Flyers who trail Pittsburgh by four points. A win today over Ottawa and Pittsburgh tomorrow, moves Philadelphia into the No. 4 seed……The Washington Capitals fighting for a playoff spot, got some help from Pittsburgh last night. Washington hosts Montreal tonight…..With a win over the Carolina Hurricanes today, the New Jersey Devils could pull within two points of the Flyers for the No. 5 seed (with a Flyers loss).
EASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS
1. New York Rangers (50-21-7, 107 pts)
2. Boston Bruins (45-28-4, 94 pts)
3. Florida Panthers (37-25-16, 90pts)
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (48-24-6, 102 pts)
5. Philadelphia Flyers (45-24-8, 98 pts)
6. New Jersey Devils (44-28-6, 94 pts)
7. Ottawa Senators (39-28-10, 88 pts)
8. Washington Capitals (39-31-8, 86 pts)
9. Buffalo Sabres (38-30-10, 86 pts)