After a dreadful performance in New Jersey on Thursday, the Penguins earned a hard-fought two points against the Carolina Hurricanes last night.
To say the first period was forgettable would be an understatement.
It almost resembled the first period of the first game in a playoff series, with both sides feeling each other out.
Marc-Andre Fleury made a couple of nice saves right off the bat to keep the game scoreless. On offense, the Pens were unable to generate much of anything, but found a way to outshoot the Canes by an 8-6 margin.
Luckily, the Penguins have the second ranked defense in the league, so they can still be successful in tight-checking, low-scoring games.
One play seemed to change the tide in the game and wake the Penguins from their slumber.
Erik Cole goes to his favorite move off the rush and gets a quick wrist shot off. The shot looked like it was going over the net, but caught the knob of Fleury’s stick. The puck deflected down a little bit and bounced harmlessly off the crossbar.
However, Cole and the Canes thought the puck was in the net and they reacted as such. I even thought the puck went in, caught the back bar on the cage and came out.
Replays clearly showed the puck did not cross the line and the home town fans applauded in approval.
Mere moments later, the Penguins would tally the first goal of the contest.
Kris Letang’s initial shot from a bad angle was stopped by Cam Ward. Letang picked up the rebound behind the net and was promptly buried by Eric Staal.
However, Letang picked himself up and stayed with the play. He forced Joe Corvo to rush a pass up the boards that Brooks Orpik held in at the blue line. Orpik fed it across the ice to Dustin Jeffrey, who ripped a wrister through traffic and behind Ward.
I have no idea how the puck got through that many sticks and legs and beat Ward clean, but I’ll gladly take it.
As such, Jeffrey became the answer to a trivia question. Now, when people ask, “Who was the first Penguins player to score with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup?” You can emphatically answer and do a little fist pump.
In the third period, Cole’s bad night continued as he lost his mind for a moment and committed a foolish interference penalty.
(Side note: As brutal as it was, it didn’t hold a candle to Rush Limbaugh openly mocking Chinese President Hu Jintao the other day. If you haven’t seen this, click and marvel at how this man still has a job.)
It’s okay though, because he didn’t have to sit in the sin bin for very long.
Just 19 seconds into the power play, Chris Kunitz found Mark Letestu wide open in the slot. Letestu held onto the puck for a moment, picked his spot and didn’t miss.
Later, Jordan Staal sprung Pascal Dupuis for a shorthanded breakaway. Dupuis went to the backhand and roofed it over Ward, making it look way too easy.
While watching the replay, forget about Dupuis. Watch Joni Pitkanen’s effort, or lack thereof after Dupuis gets by him. He coasts back into the zone and makes no attempt to even pressure Dupuis as he gets to the net.
While I didn’t see anyone on Twitter last night mention the word “shutout,” Paul Steigerwald started talking about Brent Johnson’s blanking of the Canes earlier this season with about 10 minutes to play in the game.
It was inevitable that Carolina would score once, but to allow two goals in the final four minutes? Not good.
Not to mention, Orpik stepping up at the offensive blue line with about 30 seconds to play and not getting the puck or the man, was an unnecessary risk.
Carolina stormed up ice and Fleury slammed the door to preserve the win.
Until Crosby and Malkin return to the lineup, expect to see the Penguins play this style of hockey. Baring the occasional outburst of offense, the Pens will become a defense first and counter-attacking team.
That’s not to say they won’t look to pin teams deep in the offensive end, but I would venture to guess that we’ll see a lot more of the dump and chase that has been largely absent this season.
It’s also worth noting that the Penguins do not have a 5-on-5 goal in six periods of play without Sid and Geno in the lineup.
Earlier today, Rob Rossi at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that sources indicated Crosby will sit out the All-Star Game. In addition, Malkin’s not likely to play in the game either.
While it would have been better for the NHL’s marketing department to have that duo participate in the game, I’d rather not see them play. There’s no need to rush back to play in a game that has no meaning or significance whatsoever.
Sure, it’s cool to have the league’s best players casually competing on one ice sheet, but it’s only slightly more entertaining than the NFL Pro Bowl.
Personally, I’m more amped up to see the Skills Competition, where the raw talent of the best athletes on the planet is on full display.
Hopefully, one or both of the two-headed monster will be able to return after the long All-Star layoff.
The Penguins are off until Tuesday, when they will host the New York Islanders in the final game before the All-Star Game.
Their next game won’t be until Feb. 1. Hopefully the week off will allow two of the league’s brightest stars to get back in the lineup.
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