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Post-Game: Defensive play has Penguins on verge of catching Flyers for conference lead

Victory highlighted by Johnson leveling DiPietro with one punch

— The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their winning ways without captain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Tyler Kennedy (8), Chris Kunitz (18) and Max Talbot (6, EN) all scored and Brent Johnson made 20 saves to record a team shutout with Marc Andre Fleury as the Penguins defeated the New York Islanders 3-0 on Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.
Johnson and Fleury recorded a team shutout because Johnson and Islanders goaltender Rick Dipietro fought with 16.5 seconds left in the game after Dipietro stuck out his left leg, dumping winger Matt Cooke to the ice that started a brawl in the Islanders defensive zone.
Johnson came to Cooke’s defense and quickly charged center ice avoiding the refs as the two squared off and Johnson leveled Dipietro with a one punch left handed haymaker that sent Dipietro immediately to the ice.
Fleury finished the game for the final 16.5 seconds. Johnson admitted to fighting before in the minors.
The Penguins are 17-2-2 against the Islanders at home in their past 21 meetings and have posted a 13-1-2 record overall in their last 16 meetings against the Isles. Pittsburgh is 3-1 against New York this season.
— The Penguins improved to 33-15-4, 70pts with the win and are just a point behind the conference leading Philadelphia Flyers. Pittsburgh has continued to maintain without Sidney Crosby and are 7-3-1 without Crosby and a combined 4-1 without Malkin.
One reason for the Penguins success without Crosby is due to their defensive play. They have emerged as one of the league’s elite defensive hockey clubs and it keeps them in just about every game. In Pittsburgh’s first 9 games without Crosby (before the break), they averaged just 2.1 goals per game but went 5-3-1.
“We got great goaltending again tonight, head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Johhny had to make 2 or 3 real good saves to keep them off the board. But are PK and our defense is playing real strong. Michalek and Martin have played some great games and last couple have been really solid. Goligoski and Engelland tonight, Orpik and Letang. We have a solid group back there.”
” The way they play makes it difficult to get chances and our goaltender has been really solid. Gives our group confidence with the way both have been playing. Given the situation we’re in and the guys we are going with, playing strong defensively gives us confidence that we can go out and play our game and have success.”
— As Dan Bylsma noted, two players who have been excellent in the Penguins first two games back since the break is Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek.
Here are Martin and Michalek’s numbers from tonight:
Martin – 22:52 TOI, 2 assists, 5 blocked shots
Michalek – 23:55 TOI (team-high), 5 blocked shots, 6:28 of ice time on the PK
Max Talbot scored an empty net goal with 41 seconds left and it was Talbot’s first goal in 25 games. It was a milestone goal for Talbot netting No. 50 of his career and point 100.
Talbot delivered several hard hits in the game and was excellent on the PK and in the face-off circle. Talbot won 8 of 10 draws and logged 4:19 of ice time on the PK.
His teammates were extremely happy for him to get off the snide as was his coach.
“Well I think Max has been playing a pretty significant role, ” Bylsma said. “A lot of ice time and has been doing some good things for us and he’s had some good opportunities the past few games to get goals and hit a couple posts tonight. I think the biggest roar came from our bench when Max scored that goal, ” Bylsma said.
— The Penguins No. 1 ranked PK unit came up big once again killing off all 5 Islanders power plays. However, the Penguins have to become more discipline once playoff time comes around.
“It is tolerable and I think at some point we kind of feel like we can rely on our PK. But That’s an issue… we take too many penalties and rely on our PK too much, ” Bylsma said.
Eric Tangradi had 10:38 of ice time and was pointless. He wasn’t overly physical which is an area he needs to show more consistency in but was a presence in front of the net and provided a net front presence on Tyler Kennedy’s opening goal.
He was also good with his wall play and overall it was a solid game for Tangradi and one area that caught Bylsma’s eye was Tangradi’s play coming out of the defensive zone.
“I liked Eric’s game, ” Bylsma said. “I thought he was strong. Net front on power play goal to start us off with the game winning goal by Tyler Kennedy. He was at the front of the net on our faceoff play and creates a screen. He was good in the offensive zone.”
“I thought he was very good coming out of D-zone, really good with his puck management and setting up some good shifts with the way he played with the puck coming out of the D-zone. So, I thought it was a strong game from Eric tonight.”
— What a season Chris Kunitz is putting together. Collected his 18th goal of the season tonight and has 2 goals in his last two games.
What’s been good to see is that Kunitz is producing without Sidney Crosby in the lineup. Kunitz has recorded points in 6 of 8 games and has 8 points and 5 goals during that stretch.
— The Penguins return to action Friday night against the Buffalo Sabres. It will be the Sabres first game since the All-Star break. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is likely due back. He has missed the past 5 games.

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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