The Eastern Conference top team? the Pittsburgh Penguins are two for two against the Boston Bruins this week, defeating Boston 2-1 on Sunday afternoon at the Consol Energy Center, extending their winning streak to nine games.
The Penguins were outshot 32-18, but gave up just one goal as the Penguins suddenly have look of a defensive sound team over their last five games. It marked the fourth time in five games, the Penguins have given up 1 goal or less.
The Penguins had to play the final two periods without top defenseman Kris Letang who left the game with a 1:26 remaining in the first period and never returned. Replays showed Letang appeared to get injured after taking a slash from Boston’s Brad Marchand. The team is calling the injury a lower body injury.
Letang who leads all NHL defensemen with 28 points, was a minus-1 and had 1 blocked shot in 7:03 of ice time.
Running five defensemen through the rotation for the final two periods, the Penguins relied heavily on defenseman Paul Martin who had a game high 30:02 of ice time.
Sidney Crosby (13) and Joe Vitale (1) scored for the Penguins. Vitale’s goal with 32 seconds remaining in the first period ended up being the eventual game winner. Tomas Vokoun made 31 saves in the win.
Tyler Seguin (10) scored for Boston in the loss.
1st 12:06 PIT SIDNEY CROSBY (13)
Assists: CHRIS KUNITZ (22), PASCAL DUPUIS (7) (1-0 PIT)
1st 16:38 BOS TYLER SEGUIN (10)
ASSISTS: PATRICE BERGERON (17), JOHNNY BOYCHUK (3) (1-1 TIE)
1st 19:28 PIT JOE VITALE (1)
ASSISTS: CRAIG ADAMS (2), BROOKS ORPIK (7) (2-1 PIT)
POST-GAME THOUGHTS (10)
1. The Penguins were 2-2 on the Penalty Kill and continue to show steady improvement over the last five games where the Penguins killed have off 11 of 12 power play opportunities against. One factor in this has been better goaltending and what’s stood out has been the Penguins being much more aggressive along the wall. When players are turning their back, the Penguins are coming hard on them and their rotation has been much better of late.
2. Sidney Crosby’s first period goal at 12:06 was a perfect example of why Crosby has the perfect wingers around him in Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis who have great speed and are excellent forecheckers. This is the best line in hockey when it comes to possessing the puck in the offensive zone and Crosby’s goal is the type of hard working goals this line continues to score all season as Pascal Dupuis won a puck battle from Zdeno Chara behind the net, leading to the goal.
3. The Penguins have given up just 5 goals in their last five games and today was another team defensive/good structure type of game. The Bruins had the better zone time and the Penguins got in trouble at times due to lost d-zone faceoffs, but the Penguins were effective at keeping shots from the outside and when the Bruins were attacking through the neutral zone, Pittsburgh was aggressive in not letting Boston get pucks deep by stepping up on the Bruins and you can do that when you have your forwards committed on the backcheck.
4. Hard to nitpick but Tyler Seguin’s first period goal at 16:38 is a good example of where defensively the Penguins have to get better and that’s identifying players in front. On the goal, which started with great zone time from the Bruins after a won faceoff, it was a missed assignment as the Penguins had Brandon Sutter, Kris Letang and Mark Eaton all covering the front of the net but all of them failed to identify a wide open Tyler Seguin. Replays show it was a missed assignment by Mark Eaton. The Bruins should be happy with the zone time they had and a big part of that was the Penguins struggles to win d-zone draws. Brandon Sutter was 2-9 (22%) and Sidney Crosby was 3-8 (33%).
5. The 4th line scored a goal? Yes it really happened for those who didn’t see the game. Off a miscue from Tuukka Rask who gave up a juicy rebound on a Craig Adams shot, Joe Vitale went to the net and beat Rask top shelf putting home the rebound, giving the Penguins a big goal with 32 seconds left in the first period. The Penguins will take any secondary scoring they can get from the 4th line and Vitale is a player you’d hope his offensive game would develop some more. He had 4 goals and 14 points last season in 68 games, has good speed and some decent hands. The feeling has been over 70 to 75 games, he should be a 7 to 8 goal a year player. Secondary scoring is going to be critical come playoff time.
6. Simon Despres was a healthy scratch today as the Penguins wanted to get the more physical Deryk Engelland in the lineup, similar to Tuesday night when Despres also came out of the lineup for Engelland. As you all know I’m the group who feel Despres should be playing every night, especially against a top contender like the Bruins which is great experience for him. I will say this though. Many will point to the Penguins being 17-4 with Simon Despres in the lineup but when it comes to a third pairing defenseman who only plays around 10 to 12 minutes a game, I don’t think that stat means much similar to a few seasons ago when some tried to act like the Penguins excellent record with Chris Conner in the lineup was a big deal.
7. Two things I liked from Beau Bennett today. He was effective at making smart plays off the wall in his own end in getting the puck out, and down low in the offensive zone he continues to use his length well. When you look at him without his equipment on he has the body of a teenager but he has very good balance and he has a long wing span which makes him fend off defenders effectively on the cycle and when protecting the puck off the wall. I had someone mention to me how Bennett reminded him of an NBA player who is 6-foot-7 but plays like he’s 6-foot-11 because of a long wingspan.
8. Today was another positive game for Tomas Vokoun. There’s no denying that the Penguins have played much better in front of him the last three games he’s appeared in action and today they kept a lot of shots to outside. What I’ve liked from Vokoun is that his positioning has been much improved and he’s squaring up shooters once again like he was earlier in the season.
9. Chris Kunitz picked his 40th point of the season with the primary assist on Crosby’s goal and he needs 22 points over the next 18 games to post a career high in points. Kunitz career high in points is 61 (2011-2012).
10. Bruins management has to look at these two matchups with the Penguins and feel the need to add some more speed in their top-9 and potentially add another score. That said, I don’t think these two games have showed either team would be a clear favorite in a potential playoff matchup.