— The Pittsburgh Penguins (39-21-8, 86 pts) on Tuesday night continued their dominance against the Buffalo Sabres (32-26-8, 72 pts), with a 3-1 win on home ice, sweeping the season series from Buffalo (4-0). Pittsburgh improved to 28-9-7 against Buffalo since 1999-2000, and most importantly, inched closer to securing a playoff berth as 90 points projects to get them in easily.
— The sense from some inside the locker room over the past couple days is that the win against Boston on Saturday night could be a turning point for the Pens. The Penguins again got an excellent performance from Marc-Andre Fleury who made 29 saves to improve to 4-0 with a 1.25 goals-against average against Buffalo this season. Fleury has stopped 120 of 125 Buffalo shots this season.
The Penguins are quietly starting a marketing campaign for Fleury to get Hart Trophy consideration. Could a strong finish to the season get him into the mix?
— James Neal had his best performance in a Penguins uniform Saturday night and carried over his play to Tuesday night. Neal notched his 1st goal as a Penguin, 1:25 into the second period and then assisted on Zbynek Michalek’s blast from the right point, minutes later.
For a player whose struggling to score, it was no surprise that Neal scored by going to the net.
— The Penguins power play (0-for-6) was a mess last night and one player they need to make more of a focal point is..
Alex Kovalev. Kovalev appearing in his first home game as a Penguin since February 6, 2003, was very ineffective and I think we’re going to see that from him at times this season.
However, it can be argued that he wasn’t used right last night. Once the Penguins setup in the offensive zone on the power play, they never had any kind of continutity and were running their power play too much from the points.
Why the team continues to go away from working behind the net or down low, remains mindboggling. The power play needs to be running more from the right half wall with Kovalev acting as the catalyst.
Despite how well Marc Andre Fleury is playing, for the Penguins to make some noise this post-season, the power play is going to have to become a force. The first step is changing the structure of it.
On a side note, I did like the staff kind of breaking up the two units but Tyler Kennedy’s not a good enough passer to be on the top-unit, despite the need for a right handed shot on that left side.
— Chris Kunitz returned to the lineup after missing 13 games. He made his presence felt, most notably on the forecheck, leading the Penguins with 5 hits. The way Kunitz plays, it can be argued that he’s never going to get through a season healthy. There’s few players who play as hard as he does.
— With Kunitz back in the lineup, Chris Conner is the odd-man out. Arron Asham (concussion) is also very close to being cleared to practice with his teammates, possibly as early as Thursday. The Penguins have an off-day on Wednesday.