This truly has been a tale of two teams with how the Pittsburgh Penguins have played this season.
The Penguins have climbed to the top of the Atlantic Division standings thanks to three straight wins over the Rangers, Devils and Capitals.
These weren’t just wins either. They were convincing decisions after four lackluster performances in a row, where the team struggled to score goals and went 1-3.
Starting with Thursday’s win over the Rangers, the Penguins got back to basics and protected the puck very well. Their commitment to team defense helped Tomas Vokoun earn his 49th career shutout and got the Penguins back on track.
They carried that momentum into Consol Energy Center on Saturday and opened the floodgates against Martin Brodeur and the Devils.
The 5-1 final score probably doesn’t do their effort justice. The Devils were outclassed from the second the puck dropped. Pittsburgh outshot New Jersey 30-16 in the contest and Marc-Andre Fleury barely broke a sweat.
On Sunday, the Penguins marched into Washington and dismantled the Capitals 6-3. Overall, the only complaint I have over these three games is how the Penguins let off the gas in the third period against the Capitals with a three-goal lead.
Other than that, there was a lot of good to come out of these three games.
A week ago, I was concerned about the lack of secondary scoring. That’s not the case right now. Chris Kunitz has four goals in the last two games, Brandon Sutter got his first goal as a Penguin and guys on the blue line are starting to chip in as well.
Robert Bortuzzo scored his first NHL goal on Saturday, Paul Martin added one against the Caps and Kris Letang scored a goal in both games over the weekend.
Speaking of Bortuzzo, we’ve only seen a small sample size, but you have to be impressed with how he’s played. He looks calm and composed and isn’t trying to do too much with the puck. He has been in position, physical and is making a strong case to be an everyday player on this roster.
Another guy who has played well recently is Simon Despres. Granted, he has made some pretty ugly mistakes and had a forgettable third period against the Capitals. However, he’s still very young and those moments will happen.
There’s nothing about his game that makes me cringe whenever he steps on the ice. It’s just going to take him a little time to adjust to being in the NHL.
Last week, the Penguins picked up Zach Boychuk off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes. Immediately, Dan Bylsma put him alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal for both games this weekend.
Honestly, while he hasn’t scored, the revolving door of wingers to fill the void on that line might be over. It has only been two games, but Boychuk has had several great chances and that line has looked dangerous almost every time they hit the ice.
It’ll be interesting to see how they play going forward, but this is already looking like a great addition to the team.
However, if Boychuk does pan out, it’s going to leave the futures of Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi highly in question with this club – if they aren’t already.
I also mentioned that Sidney Crosby looked tentative to go to the dirty areas and just didn’t look like himself. That’s all changed.
Crosby was phenomenal against the Devils with a goal and two assists. He kept it going on Sunday by registering three assists against Washington.
However, it’s not the points that are impressive. It’s how he played the game. He commanded the puck, welcomed contact below the goal line and took the puck to the blue paint. He was leading by example and the rest of the team followed. It was fun to watch him go to work, knowing that the other team couldn’t stop him.
I will hold off passing full judgment on the “new look” power play with Malkin at the point until we see it in action for a couple more games. Their entries into the zone are still suspect, but once they have gotten set up, they’ve generated a lot of chances. Obviously, it’s still a work in progress.
Also impressive so far has been the play of Vokoun. A year ago, Brent Johnson struggled mightily, which forced the Penguins to exhaust Fleury.
This year, Vokoun has looked sharp every time he’s been in the cage. He’s reading plays and seeing pucks very well. He has also remained calm and composed in scramble situations.
I still think the Penguins shifted their mentality whenever Johnson or even Brad Thiessen was in goal. They were less likely to take chances offensively because they maybe didn’t trust them as much as Fleury. That’s not the case this season with Vokoun.
The Penguins look no different in terms of style of play with either Fleury or Vokoun in net. There’s something to be said about that.
A dismal loss to the New York Islanders sparked this current three-game winning streak. Now, the Penguins will put that winning streak on the line against those same Islanders Tuesday night.
It would be a fair assumption to think the Penguins will put forth a much better effort this time around.
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