The Pittsburgh Penguins earned a hard-fought two points against the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night.
Evgeni Malkin returned from a concussion and you could just tell he was going to score at some point in the game.
Both he and Crosby were incredible and would not be denied. Tampa Bay did a good job of containing them and the rest of the Penguins through two periods, but the inevitable happened in the third.
While trailing 2-1, Malkin picked off a pass in the neutral zone and hit the blue line in full flight. With two defenders back, Malkin dished the puck to open space, made a lateral move most NFL running backs would be jealous of and burned Anders Lindback. It was a thing of beauty to watch.
About two minutes later, Crosby finally cashed in and broke the tie on a one-timer from Kris Letang.
James Neal added an empty netter, which ended up being the game-winning goal after a late fluke goal by Steven Stamkos.
Overall, the Penguins did a much better job in their own end than they had in the previous three games. Rebounds were being cleared out of danger and Lightning sticks were being tied up around the net.
There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but it’s not going to happen overnight. The good news is that there was progress and they still got the win, which is the most important part.
My only real criticism from the game was the power play, which failed to convert on three chances.
Letang is obviously a great player and while he’s struggled recently in his own end, he’s struggled for most of the season on the power play.
Quite simply, he should not be the guy carrying the puck up the ice unless he’s going to dump it in appropriately. Several times against Tampa Bay, he glided through the neutral zone forcing his forwards to stop their momentum, at which point he chips the puck deep to the waiting opposing defenseman. It’s an easy out every time.
If he’s going to lead the rush and dump it in, he’s got to dump the puck when the forwards are hitting the blue line with speed to have a shot at getting the puck.
It’s a minor adjustment, but until it happens, he’s going to get denied at the blue line every time or give the opposition an easy clear.
When the Penguins did get set up on the power play against the Lighting it was usually off of an offensive zone faceoff win. Once set up, the Pens had several good chances, but just couldn’t cash in.
Now, the Penguins will head to Philadelphia Thursday with a five-point lead in the division over the New Jersey Devils.
Over the weekend, I introduced a new statistic that I’m keeping track of to hopefully shine some more light on how goals against are not solely the goalie’s fault in most cases.
For some, the goalie is the easy scapegoat because “it’s his job to stop the puck.” While that’s certainly what he gets paid to do, there are five other guys on the ice who are supposed to help him out too.
With that said, let’s break down the goals Tampa Bay scored Monday night.
Goal No. 1 – Stamkos Back Door Tap In
Tampa Bay enters the Penguins’ zone on a 3-on3 with Pascal Dupuis backchecking hard. Orpik stays with the puck carrier (St. Louis) as he pulls up at the top of the faceoff circle.
St. Louis feeds Victor Hedman with a cross-ice pass as Stamkos drives the net. Dupuis picked up Hedman, but Deryk Engelland slid over toward Dupuis’ area as well, which left Stamkos all alone on the back door.
All Hedman had to do was put the puck on Stamkos’ tape for the easy goal. Joe Vitale and Orpik were late getting back to the front of the net as well, but most of the blame in this case is on Engelland for not recognizing where Dupuis was and allowing Stamkos to get to the net easily.
In this case, Fleury is squared up to Hedman because he has to respect the possibility of a shot coming, while trusting his teammates to pick up the back door.
- Engelland 0.5
- Vitale 0.25
- Orpik 0.25
Goal No. 2 – Pyatt Uses His Face To Score
It wasn’t a good second period for Engelland, who once again is the goat on this play.
Ondrej Palat burned Engelland in the corner and was able to skate behind the net and feed Nate Thompson in the faceoff circle. Thompson’s turnaround wrist shot deflected off of Brandon Sutter’s stick, into Taylor Pyatt’s face. The puck then fluttered over Fleury and into the net.
Engelland getting beat in the corner was the main reason the goal was scored. However, Simon Despres had a chance to block the pass from Palat to Thompson and was unable to do so.
Sutter did the correct thing and got a stick on the shot and had Pyatt’s face not been in the way, the puck would have sailed over the net.
It’s a fluke goal, but Despres and Engelland share the blame on this one as Fleury could not see anything through the screen in front and was down in the butterfly in an attempt to take up as much room as possible in the event a shot got through the masses in front.
- Engelland 0.5
- Despres 0.5
Goal No. 3 – Stamkos Shows Off His Baseball Skills
Down 4-2 in the dying seconds of the game, the Lighting were buzzing in the Penguins’ end. Vincent Lecavalier’s initial shot was stopped by Fleury, but the puck popped off his stick straight up in the air.
Unable to locate it in time, Stamkos reached in and knocked it out of the air and into the net for his second goal of the night.
While Fleury will get charged with some of the blame on the goal, Tanner Glass is on the hook too.
Glass slid over to Lecavalier and attempted to block the shot, but missed. The puck went right under him and onto Fleury’s stick.
Granted, this is the second weird goal of the game for the Lightning, but it doesn’t matter how it goes in right?
Fleury’s stick was just slightly angled, which allowed the puck to pop up in the air as well.
- Fleury 0.5
- Glass 0.5
Engelland climbs up the list and is now fourth in the adjusted GAA standings. See how the rest of the list looks by clicking the following link: View the updated standings here
(Standings reflect the last 4 games)
Check back after Thursday’s game against Philadelphia for more updates to the list.