The Pittsburgh Penguins have has a successful season so far, as they currently hold a 23-10-2 record and the number two spot in the NHL. Their 12-game win streak was finally broken by the Philadelphia Flyers on December 14th, followed by a loss to the New York Rangers the following night, but this didn’t kill them.
It made them stronger.
On Monday, Pittsburgh saw a 6-1 win over the Coyotes, and Wednesday’s contest against the Panthers ended with a 5-2 victory. The streak’s heartbreaking end only lit a fire under the Pens, who played last night with energy and cohesiveness that held strong despite a messy second half.
This was a team game in the truest sense: goals were scored by first liners Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis, second liner Matt Cooke, third liner Mark Letestu, and defenseman Ben Lovejoy. Even backup goaltender Brent Johnson logged an assist on the Crosby goal.
Johnson, however, was unable to finish the game.
“(Johnson) had a groin injury. I don’t know when he injured it during the game,” said head coach Dan Bylsma in the post-game press conference. “It just got to a point where he wasn’t good to go. That’s when Marc-Andre Fleury went in during the third.”
Johnson and Fleury only allowed one goal each, and the solid net presence helped keep the hungry Panthers (15-17-0) at bay. Every Penguin played a high-pressure game, dominating on both ends of the ice and controlling the pace to take a 3-1 lead in the first.
The second half was a bit of a blunder, but the team did not fall apart.
“It all stemmed from our neutral zone transition, how we executed there, how we managed the puck,” Bylsma explained. “It lead to them getting some momentum and getting good shifts and getting in the offensive zone, and we didn’t get any of that. The power play, the execution, also lead to them getting momentum. We didn’t execute real well.”
“We weren’t the greatest,” Crosby said. “With the lead, we probably could’ve done a better job. But maybe we were thinking about tomorrow as well.”
Thursday’s highly anticipated showdown with the Washington Capitals might have been a distraction, but it didn’t stop the Pens from working together to hold onto their lead.
It also didn’t stop Crosby from continuing his point streak to 22 games. In doing so, he tied San Jose’s Dany Heatley for the second-longest streak since Mats Sundin reached 30 games in 1992-93.
Another Penguin who had a big night is Lovejoy, who scored his first NHL goal and had his first NHL fight, before unfortunately taking a puck to the face and heading to the locker room to get stitched up.
“It was certainly a fun game. It would have been nicer to not get that puck in the face, but it’s fun to score,” he told the press. While he might be sore, he’s riding high on his accomplishment.
“A puck wrapped around the boards and I just let it fly. I think it went off one of their defenseman’s pants and went in, but it still counts. It’s a great feeling…a goal is something you dream about.”
Opportunity is something the Penguins know how to create, and when every part of the team is working on the same level, the possibilities are endless.