Last night, the Pens were tested for the first time in this young season and they responded – rather emphatically.
Shortly after Nathan Gerbe scored to tie the game early in the third period, the Penguins put their collective foot on the gas and never looked back en route to a 5-2 win.
Pittsburgh is now 3-0 this season and are one point ahead of the New York Islanders atop the Metropolitan Division.
Just 1:50 after Gerbe’s game-tying goal, Evgeni Malkin danced along the Carolina blue line and fed a tight pass to Jussi Jokinen near the top of the left faceoff circle. Jokinen made no mistake and ripped the shot top shelf on the short side to put the Penguins up 3-2.
The goal was Jokinen’s second of the night.
The first was a thing of beauty on the power play in the first period. While cutting across the top of the crease, Sidney Crosby fed Jokinen in full flight. In one motion, Jokinen took the pass in his skates, kicked it up to his stick and tucked it behind Cam Ward.
But was Jokinen done tormenting his former team? Absolutely not.
With the Penguins on the power play with about seven minutes left in the game, Jokinen crossed the blue line, changed the shooting angle and blew a wrister by Ward to complete the hat trick.
Now, keep in mind, the Hurricanes are still paying part of Jokinen’s salary (about $900,000).
If you watch the replay of Jokinen’s hat trick goal, you’ll notice Ward was less than impressed and golfed the puck down the ice.
There’s two potential explanations for his reaction:
A). He was just frustrated after allowing three goals in about eight minutes.
B). He was flabbergasted that the Hurricanes were paying someone on another team to score on him.
In any event, Jokinen’s performance last night was pretty spectacular. He rang a shot off the post on the opening shift of the game, which was clearly a sign of what was to come.
Also impressive was the play of Olli Maatta. In three games, he’s yet to look uncomfortable out there and is playing with the confidence of a veteran.
He’s positionally sound, has great instincts and was rewarded for his efforts last night. Maatta earned his first two points in the NHL by helping to set up Jokinen’s final two goals.
Maatta also led the team with three blocks in the contest and was named the second star of the game.
Speaking of blocked shots, the Penguins did another solid job of getting in the way to help their goaltender. As a team, the Pens blocked 16 Carolina shots.
Marc-Andre Fleury turned in another great performance by stopping 32 of the 34 shots fired his way. You’d have to try real hard to place any blame on him for either of the two goals he allowed last night.
The first was just a great deflection by Eric Staal, while falling to the ice. The other was a good play by Gerbe in traffic in the slot. You can’t stop them all and have to give the shooters credit when it’s due.
For the third straight game, Fleury looked composed, calculated and comfortable between the pipes.
Here’s Fleury’s stat line through three games:
3-0, 1.00 GAA, .963 save percentage, three goals against, 82 shots against.
There is literally nothing to complain about or question with those numbers.
The Penguins will now hit the road for their first road trip of the season. Up next will be the Florida Panthers Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
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