Since the schedule was released, every Penguin fan had this game circled on their calendars. Matt Cooke’s return. We’re huge Cooke fanboys, but this was about the only thing that proves that he was in town:
Other than that, his return was completely overshadowed. We’re okay with that though. The Pens put together yet another complete game and needed solid performances out of everyone in the lineup. Coming into the second game of a back to back after going to a shootout in first game, fatigue was going to probably be a factor, but the guys that played average minutes against the Rangers got a lot more ice time in this one to lighten the load for the top minute guys and it was like nothing skipped a beat. Zatkoff was solid when he was called upon too, but he was certainly helped out by the guys in front of him. Can’t say enough good things about the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and how they’ve been performing in the NHL.
Lineup: With James Neal’s suspension running its course, he returned to the lineup, slotted on the wing with Jokinen and Zolnierczyk. Brian Gibbons was the odd man out, with the rest of the lineup remaining the same as Wednesday night in New York. Zatkoff got the start in net, opposite of Niklas Backstrom. Plus, Matt Cooke was back in Pittsburgh.
Pens 2nd line of Zolnierczyk-Jokinen-Neal with Dumoulin-Brotuzzo got the start against Cooke-Brodziak-Bulmer with Suter-Brodin. Brotuzzo put Cooke on his ass on the first shift of the game before Zatkoff froze an early shot. Pens won the next draw and exited the zone fairly easily. Kunitz found Crosby streaking through the neutral zone. He dished to Maatta joining the rush, who fired in in Backstrom. He had trouble with it, Crosby knocked it back at him out of midair, and a big scrum ensued, ending with the puck somehow crossing the line. 1-0
Backstrom has been struggling all season for the Wild and that was pretty evident on that one. Garbage rebound control, but the Pens also got the right bounce too. Another early goal too, given to Dupuis from Crosby and Maatta.
Just 2:19 in, Adams and Konopka dropped the gloves at center ice after Adams finished a check on Konopka. Konopka got a couple better shots, but it was fairly even.
Shortly after that, Brotuzzo had a chance to put the Pens up 2-0 as he was found streaking through the slot, but he rang it off the post.
Right after that with 15:41 remaining, Keith Ballard went low on a check on Kobasew. Monster hip check that Son of Ulf came over to fight Ballard, but Kobasew took care of it on his own and dropped them with Ballard, getting the better of Ballard too.
If you remember, Keith Ballard did this before. That’s what happens when you’re one of the 2 reported cases of Battaglia Neri syndrome.
With 9:46 remaining, Parise fanned on some shot in the Pens zone and they exited. As Crosby went to enter the Wild zone, Koivu hooked him up to give the top ranked NHL powerplay its first chance of the night. Jokinen and Niskanen manned the points with Neal, Kunitz, and Crosby working down low. The first 45 seconds looked really good after a Niskanen blast and a nice give and go between Crosby and Neal, but Backstrom made both saves. Pens struggled to really enter the zone after that as the Wild brought some high pressure to kill it off.
Not sure if it was “PR for Neal” or “Dupuis kind of sucks this year,” but with about 5 minutes left, Kunitz-Crosby-Neal was a thing and were stirring shit up in the Minnesota zone. Right after that, Dupuis-Sutter-Zolnierczyk became a thing, with Z and Dupuis really looking good on the forecheck on Brodin. It’s no secret how much we want Sutter and Dupuis to play together. If you believe what you read and think Kunitz is going to Sochi to ride shotgun with Crosby, we wouldn’t hate seeing a Kunitz-Crosby-Neal line for Team Canada. Actually, we’d like it a lot.
But naturally, the next shift for Crosby and Kunitz had Dupuis with them.
The last couple minutes of the period were a little disjointed until the very last shift of the period where the Pens top line went to work and were generating down low, but the Wild were able to escape. Shots were 13-9 in favor of the Pens at the end of the first. Minnesota had twice as many hits as the Pens (10), with Brotuzzo registering 3 of the Pens 5. Aside from Sill and Vitale winning all 3 of their draws, the Pens were fairly dominated in the dot.
Pens opened the period with an almost 90 second shift out of their top line. They got a couple good looks at the net with the best coming as Despres jumped in and spun a nifty backhander towards the net that Dupuis got a good piece of, but it just wouldn’t go. But it was the next shift that was the killer. Sutter’s line got out there and they cycled the puck before working it up high to Maatta. Stoner blocked his shot, but Sutter whacked at the puck as he was falling and buried one. 2-0
Shortly after that, Nino Niederreiter interferred with Zatkoff behind the net as Zatkoff tried to get back into his net. The passing was impeccable as usual. Neal forced a turnover and the puck came to Jokinen at the point. He put it on a tee for Niskanen. 3-0
That boy can really fire clappers. Bar down. Can’t place it any better than that. Not sure Backstrom stops that even without the Kunitz screen.
Right after that, Dumo went to the box for hooking up Bulmer. Seventh ranked PP versus 2nd ranked PK. Pens didn’t look like they were really even shorthanded and killed it off easily. Crosby was out there after the kill and was getting worked in front by Ballard, who knocked him into Backstrom. Crosby somehow got called for a penalty, probably 2 minutes for being Matt Cooke.
Pens went back to work on the penalty kill, and work they did. Zatkoff had to make 2 monstrous saves, both of which came off Penguin players before killing it off.
Ballard continued to run around with some low hits, the 2nd one coming at about the halfway point of the period on Neal as he was wheeling through the slot. Neal was a little slow to get up, processed what happened, then went after Ballard with the fire of a thousand suns. Really easy to see the trend: Go low on a hip check, piss player off, get ass beat.
Pens came out flying on the next shift and made them pay big time. Niskanen kept the puck in at the point, worked it down low and around the boards to Crosby. Crosby made one of the filthiest passes you’ll see from the corner to find Kunitz in front. 4-0
Unreal pass. Great goal. No other words than that, really. Kunitz with 19 goals, Crosby with 32 assists. Yep.
Just 37 seconds later, Niederreiter came down the left wing wall, threw a pass between the legs of Brotuzzo, and found Pominville’s stick driving the net. 4-1
Sixteenth goal of the season for Pominville. Not much you can really do there. Dumoulin tried to tie up Pominville’s stick, but Pominville had the positioning. Really nice goal though.
The Pens really took control of the rest of the period after giving up that goal. Their forecheck was bruising and wouldn’t let the Wild out of their zone. They won almost every battle and when the Wild were fortunate enough to get out of their zone, the Pens kind of trapped the shit out of them in the neutral zone and just took the puck right away from them. It showed up in the shots too as the Pens had 16 shots in the period. Minnesota had 7. If that doesn’t illustrate how much the Pens had the puck, maybe this will: The Wild, through 2 periods, were up 28-16 in faceoffs, meaning they established puck possession first, obviously, and the Pens had to win the puck off of them to have the puck. Easy to follow, right? They were just doing it with ease though. And it was amazing to see them show that much energy after playing some extra hockey the night before.
Just over 3 minutes in, Maatta kind of got caught in possession in his own zone and the Wild just kept working. A shot from the point was deflected and hit the post, went off the Fuckin’ All Star Dany Heatley and he and Coyle were stabbing at it before it finally found its way in. 4-2
Just a bit of a breakdown really.
Maatta continued his rough start to the period by getting on the ice late for his shift and hooking up Niederreiter as he drove the net looking to poke home a rebound. Just 14 seconds into the penalty, Adams cross-checked Pominville in the back to send the Wild on a 5 on 3 for 1:46. Brotuzzo, Sutter, and Sill were the threesome for the Pens. Bort was an absolute animal with one hell of a shift. The Wild were getting some cross-crease passes, but they weren’t clean passes because of how well Brotuzzo was taking up the space. The Wild missed some huge chances too, but they killed off the Maatta penalty, Sill sprung him for a breakaway and he was hooked up for a penalty shot. He came in, faked the shot, deked to the forehand, and rolled it up over Backstrom’s pad. 5-2
Not the greatest goal, but how often in his career is that kid going to get a penalty shot?
They were able to easily kill off the Adams penalty too, for what it’s worth.
A couple minutes later, #1 Defenseman Matt Niskanen went to the box for holding Scandella. Pens continued to dominate on the PK and killed it off with 30 seconds to spare as Despres was hit from behind into the boards by Coyle. Not a good hit at all.
It led to about 90 seconds of powerplay time that the Pens weren’t able to convert. They ended up getting another chance with 2:02 remaining as Bulmer took a shot at Kobasew from behind and into the boards. Another bad hit. Zach Sill got a chance on the powerplay to try to get him his first NHL goal. Minnesota killed off the powerplay, but the Pens killed off the game.
1) Would have been the first career three point (1 G, 2 A) game for Maatta. But the assist on the first goal was taken from him and awarded to Kunitz. Pedestrian two-point night, right? He really looks to be thriving in the role as the guy right now with Matt Niskanen. They’re really developing some chemistry together. Then again, when you play with the same guy for 20-25 minutes a night, you’ll start to develop something. Just a friendly reminder too that Maatta is only 19 and has shut down Pavel Datsyuk, Phil Kessel, Rick Nash, and Zach Parise.
2) Pens top line and top D pairing combined for 4 goals and 5 assists. Mikko Koivu was supposed to be the guy to shut down Crosby and ended up a -3.
3) Special teams win games and the penalty kill may have done just that in this one. The Wild have some prolific goal scorers on their top unit in Parise and Pominville, but the Pens shut them down, killing off all 5 penalties they faced, including a big 5 on 3 when it was just a 2 goal game.
4) Really organized game yet again. Whether it was keeping the Wild pinned in their zone with a destructive forecheck, trapping in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers, or limiting chances and preventing quality shots, this team looked like it was never going to lose. Not to mention, they look fresh in doing so in the second half of a back to back. A lot of that comes from the minutes being pretty evenly distributed. Good player management.
Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames Saturday afternoon before hitting the road for like a bajillion road games. It’s an afternoon game too. Go Pens.