After their third consecutive loss Friday, the Penguins held a closed-door, players-only meeting to discuss what went wrong, what they needed to improve to right the course of their up-and-down season so far. Then they said all the right things to reporters as they packed their bags and prepared to hit the road for the next eight days.
Coach Dan Bylsma, however, was more interested in seeing results.
“It’s concerning,” he said. “Talking about playing the right way and doing it – being consistent with it, believing it and throwing your chips all in because that’s the way we’re going to play – that’s a different story.
“I’ve heard about and been a part of several meetings like that. It’s usually about what happens after.”
What happened less than 24 hours later looked like a pretty good start, as the Penguins went to Raleigh, North Carolina and shut out the Hurricanes, 3-0.
“The good thing was that we played back-to-back games,” Crosby said. “When you have a tough one on the first half and get a chance to respond the next day, sometimes that’s the best thing.”
Pittsburgh got two goals from its top line of Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, with Dupuis finding the net on both. A trio of grinders contributed the other, with Arron Asham and Mike Rupp setting up Max Talbot.
“I thought we were strong on the forecheck. We created plays; obviously Dups executed well on those two goals and he had other chances, we all had chances, and that’s what we want,” Crosby said. “We played against [Eric] Staal’s line for a little bit and they’re not easy to play against, either, so a good game for us for sure.”
The Penguins’ streak of futility on the power play continued – they’re scoreless in their last 22 chances, including 0-for-2 in Raleigh – but the penalty kill was exceptional, keeping the Canes off the board in each of their seven tries. Pittsburgh also got a complete team game at both ends of the ice, something that was especially important without Evgeni Malkin – hurt Friday against Philadelphia – and Kris Letang, who left midway through the game in Carolina. Both players are day-to-day.
“I think this game in particular is one where we had to really buckle down for a number of reasons – coming off last night’s game, but also the lineup changes before and during the game,” Bylsma said. “It was every guy contributing.”
And, with his trademark Led Zeppelin blaring in the Pittsburgh dressing room after the win, there was no question about who one of the Penguins’ biggest contributors had been. Backup goaltender Brent Johnson turned aside 33 shots to record his first shutout since 2006 and improve his record to 5-0-1.
“Whatever he wants,” Crosby said of the music selection. “Whatever the goalie says goes.”
Johnson’s stats say he’s been the second-best netminder in the league so far, trailing only Boston’s Tim Thomas with a .960 save percentage and 1.16 goals-against average.
“It feels great; it really does. I’m happy to help the team win,” Johnson said. “I’m just simplifying my game, just trying to be big in front of the net and stop the puck with my body.
“My confidence is feeling pretty good but, truly, getting the two points is the only thing that matters right now.”
Although there’s no question that Marc-Andre Fleury is still Pittsburgh’s franchise goalie, Johnson’s play has become difficult to ignore, and his playing time in the first month of the season reflected that.
“It was increased due to his play,” Bylsma said, but added that Fleury will continue to get opportunities. “We have three [games in each of] the next two weeks. That’s a lot of games in a short amount of time, so they’re both going to get some work.”
As they head to Dallas, Anaheim and Phoenix for the remainder of this trip, the rest of the Penguins plan to keep up their hard work as well.
“I think we all expect that out of one another,” Crosby said of the strong effort to follow up a disappointing loss. “I think everyone’s got a lot of pride and high expectations of each other; individually, too, we expect a lot.
“That was a great way to respond tonight and, hopefully, we’re building on something here.”