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Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby can conquer anything when it comes to hockey – except maybe the tape on his stick.
As he waited for the shootout with the Maple Leafs to begin on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Crosby struggled to peel the wet, worn tape from 65 minutes of regulation and overtime off his blade – “with pucks fumbling and stuff like that, you don’t really want any excuses. Wanted to make sure I got a fresh tape job there,” he explained – before it was his turn to go.
“The tape wouldn’t come off. I was getting a little worried,” Crosby laughed. “It was the only stick I had. I was afraid I was going to have to take the shootout there with no tape on my stick. Lucky enough to get it taped up and ready to go.”
Crosby clearly wasn’t rattled by the tape fiasco, as he scored the game-deciding goal in the shootout to give Pittsburgh the 5-4 win and the extra point in a fierce battle with the Maple Leafs.
Crosby, playing in his first game at the ACC since Jan. 9, 2010, continued his domination of the league Saturday with a goal in regulation as well. He extended his point streak to seven games, where he’s totaled 15 points (5G-10A).
“I thought we played a really good game,” Crosby said. “I thought we did a lot of good things. It’s a fun building, fun atmosphere. We wouldn’t want to let them get back into it if we did it again, but they pushed hard. We probably deserved to finish that one off in regulation, but they kept coming.”
James Neal, Paul Martin and Pascal Dupuis also scored for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all three Leafs he faced in the shootout and made 22 saves in regulation. (The full game summary can be accessed here). The Penguins put 41 shots at Leafs goalie James Reimer.
“I wasn’t happy giving up four goals tonight, so (I wanted to) make sure we got those two points at the end,” Fleury said.
The Penguins did well in 5-on-5 play versus Toronto, but special teams hurt them. The Leafs went 2-for-3 with the man-advantage during regulation and came up with big kills against Pittsburgh, holding them scoreless on four attempts.
After absorbing a hit from big Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk in the third period, Evgeni Malkin took one shift before sitting out final few minutes of regulation, overtime and the shootout.
“He wasn’t sitting out because of his play,” coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “Just an upper-body injury. Just kept him out the rest of the game there and overtime and shootout.”
When asked if there was a prognosis, Bylsma replied, “Don’t have one (right now). He’ll certainly be re-evaluated. In the game, it was more precautionary than anything at that point in time.”.
The Penguins defensemen factored in heavily on the scoresheet on Saturday in Toronto. Paul Martin scored a goal and an assist, Kris Letang (the NHL’s top-scoring blueliner) collected two assists and Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik both finished with one assist.
The forwards did a solid job of getting the puck back to their defensemen at the points, but what matters is the decisions made from there. The D-men made smart choices with the puck, making passes on the tape and getting shots to the net when necessary.
Letang, who played a game-high 30:23 minutes, was more involved off the rush – joining at appropriate times and dipping low into the offensive zone when he saw an opening. He was just flying out there tonight.
After a brutal opening 20 minutes in their last game against the Flyers on Thursday where they looked flat and lifeless, having a stronger start Saturday in Toronto was Pittsburgh’s main priority entering the game. They accomplished that goal, as the Penguins got to their game right away. They dominated the first period, taking a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.
The Penguins scored just 36 seconds in off an offensive zone faceoff won by Evgeni Malkin that resulted in Neal beating James Reimer for his team-leading 16th goal of the season.
After that, the Penguins continued to have extended shifts in the offensive zone and did not let Toronto establish a presence in their end. A sequence of penalties about halfway in meant the clubs had special-teams time, where Toronto looked strong. They scored a power-play goal (Kessel) and kept the Penguins from converting a 5-on-3 opportunity with an aggressive penalty kill. But the Penguins struck on even-strength a few minutes later.
Crosby and Martin scored 50 seconds apart late in the frame to give the Penguins a two-goal lead. Much better heading into the intermission with a 3-1 lead than a 4-1 deficit.
Whitby, Ontario native Neal had a monster game against his childhood team, finishing with a goal – his 16th, tied for second in the NHL – and an assist in regulation, along with scoring in the shootout. He now has goals in three straight games and points in eight of his last nine.
Neal also didn’t hesitate to use his wicked release to get pucks to the net, finishing with a game-high seven shots.
For a time, it seemed like Beau Bennett would get the first two-point effort of his NHL career as he was initially credited with a goal and an assist. But the first-period goal was eventually credited to Paul Martin, who tried making a pass off the pads to Bennett but the puck went off defenseman Carl Gunnarsson’s stick and into the net before it could reach the rookie forward. But that doesn’t take anything away from another great performance by Bennett.
Bennett finished with an assist, a team-high plus-3 rating, four shots and a blocked shot. Tonight marked just the second full game that Bennett has played on a line with Malkin and Neal, but with the way he’s fit in it seems like he’s played there for much longer. The rookie reads Malkin and Neal very well, putting the puck to where he knows they’re going to be. The three of them combined for a number of pretty plays in the game.
Bennett also did a good job of using his body to win battles on the boards and strip opposing players of the puck.
Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz have been consistently putting up obscene amounts of points this season and have been getting a lot of rightly-deserved attention for it. But now it looks like the third member of their line, Pascal Dupuis, is starting to get hot.
Dupuis scored for a second straight game on Saturday in Toronto after going goalless in his previous seven games. Their line dominated yet again, with the best example of that coming in the first period. The three of them absolutely dominated the Leafs in their own zone for an extra-long shift, displaying magnificent puck control and movement – forcing a tired Leaf to eventually take a penalty. This trio may be the best in the NHL right now.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo