— For a team struggling to score goals with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup who will not play before the all star break, Pittsburgh’s receipe against the Hurricanes was built off of strong defensive play and winning the special teams battle.
After 37:14 of scoreless hockey, Dustin Jeffrey (2) scored a 4-on-4 goal at 17:14 of the second period and Mark Letestu (10) and Pascal Dupuis (10) added third period goals, with Letestu netting a power play goal just 2:22 into the third and Dupuis scoring shorthanded minutes later as Pittsburgh took a 3-0 lead and held on to win 3-2.
It was a big win from the standpoint that the Penguins (30-15-4, 64pts) gained two points on the division leading Flyers (31-12-5, 67pts) who lost to New Jersey. As the Penguins are approaching the 50 game mark, every game counts at this point when it comes to playoff positioning.
For a team that almost went 5 periods without scoring a goal, they found a way to get a “W” and have remained level headed without Crosby, posting a 4-3-1 record in his absence.
— Interesting dynamic going on with the Penguins blueline.
During the first 35 games of the season, Deryk Engelland emerged as the clear No. 6 defenseman but things have changed.
The Penguins have been very pleased with Ben Lovejoy’s play who struggled out of the gate, and when healthy, Lovejoy has been in the lineup over Engelland for the most part this month, dressing for the second straight game after returning from illness.
Lovejoy had a game high 5 blocked shots tonight and in the eyes of the coaching staff is winning playing time from Engelland.
— The Penguins revamped blueline gets most of the credit for the Penguins establishing into one of the best defensive teams in the NHL but Marc Andre Fleury’s impact shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Despite playing in front of an excellent top-4 and the No. 1 penalty kill unit, Fleury’s ability to rebound from a disastrous first month of the season has been instrumental to the Penguins becoming a team built off of their defensive play.
Fleury is 21-5-2 in his last 28 starts and as any player in the locker room tells me, Fleury’s the main reason for the Penguins being the No. 1 ranked PK unit.
— What a dynamic force Kris Letang has become on some nights. He logged a team-high 26:11 of ice time and made a big play on Dustin Jeffrey’s goal, getting in on the forecheck and winning a puck battle.
— Spoke with a longtime NHL scout on Friday who raved about two improvements (or developing areas) in Jordan Staal’s game; 1. Confidence in the “puck skill” areas…and….2 Staal emerging into a power foward type of player when it comes to the little things like wall play and putting a priority on becoming a front net presence.
— As I’m sure just about everyone has figured out, Sidney Crosby will not return before the all star break and therefore won’t participate in the all star game. At this point, there’s a possibility Crosby won’t be cleared for the first game back after the break.