It seems like we’ve been saying this a lot lately, but sometimes cliches are cliches because they’re built on truths. The truth is, Calgary isn’t very good. The Penguins are. The Penguins should have won this one. They did, even if it was a relatively unentertaining game. After leaking four goals in their first two Western Canadian matchups, the Penguins tightened some things up and got some stellar play from Marc-Andre Fleury to secure another two points and knock out one of the most challenging trips on the schedule – geographically, if not in terms of quality of competition. It’s a dead sprint to this Olympic break, now, with 11 games remaining before a 20-day break for most of this roster. Just gotta keep pressing forward, because that’s the only thing there is to do.
(Feature image courtesy Candice Ward of USA Today)
Lineup: Joe Vitale was not on the ice for warmups, and was seen with an ice pack on his wrist after the game against Edmonton. That meant Zach Sill was back in the saddle again centering the fourth line. Simon Despres was scratched again because we seriously don’t know why. Engelland was in again as a forward, as Sill for Vitale was the only change up front. Flower got the start in the cage against the Swiss Miss Reto Berra.
Brotuzzo and Orpik were the D pair, while Adams-Sutter-Glass started up front for the Penguins. Interestingly a couple of the culpable guys for the OT loss in Edmonton on Friday night were out there right away to start things up.
Flames carried play early, because Mike Cammalleri basically becomes Maurice Richard when he is playing against the Penguins. Flames really pushing for an early goal, as the had gone 145 straight minutes at the Saddledome without lighting the lamp.
McGrattan and Engelland tried to fight. Engo is so useful, right? So dumb fo’ real.
Is that called a rabbit punch? Or a donkey punch?
Crosby took an Orpik clearing play and Crosbyed it through a defender. Berra was able to make the save in what was probably the first Penguins’ scoring opportunity of the game.
Crosby got in all alone again as he snuck in behind the defense. TJ Brodie (who was the guy Crosby embarrassed last game against the Flames) was playing chicken with Chris Kunitz. Kunitz got the puck over and 87 had a golden opportunity, but Berra said no.
Penguins began to seize momentum after the Crosby opportunities. But Reto Berra was on his angles and very economic in his motion to direct away the opportunities the Penguins were generating.
Maatta made an awful turnover but Paul Byron was denied by Fleury. Maatta is finally starting to look human, and very much so over the last 5 or so games. That being said, he’s still playing big minutes on a good team and deserves every shift he gets.
The Penguins began to generate more offense when they were able to effectively dump the puck to the corner and get it where Berra couldn’t shuffle out to play it. In one such case, Zach Sill made an excellent play on Dennis Wideman to bottle the puck up in the zone. Wideman tried to play the puck from his knees as Colborne came over to challenge Sill, but Brotuzzo held it on the zone. With the delayed penalty on the way, Brotuzzo had some ability to freelance. He found Kunitz all alone, and Kunitz got in close enough to snipe Berra short-side on a beaut of a wrister.
Sill fangirling commence. We love the dude. Great vision by Brotuzzo, although we’re pretty sure Kunitz could have landed a helicopter without disturbing the nearest sleeping Flames’ defender. And what a nasty shot by Kunitz. But there’s no way any goalie should be that lackadasical on his post to allow that goal, even against an Olympian like Kunitz :). 24 on the year for Kunitz.
Penguins took a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
After falling behind 6-1 on the shot clock, the Penguins weathered the storm and ended up leading 13-12 in shots by the end of the first period. Both Fleury and Berra were very sharp in a first period that was not fraught of scoring opportunities for either team.
Penguins once again with a bit of a slow start, but Calgary is just atrociously awful.
The second was pretty boring, really. But some stuff allegedly happened.
The Penguins got the puck in deep and banged around with it for a while. Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass got set up in front, and Glass fed the puck back to Matt Niskanen. Niskanen moonwalked to try and find a shooting lane and let a seeing-eye wrister fly. It hit something(s) and got behind Berra.
Nothing Berra can do there. But if you’re a Flames player, you can’t be standing flat-footed in your zone, especially in the case of about 3 Flames screening Berra. Sixth goal of the season for Matt Niskanen, and it feels like most of those have come over the past 3 weeks or so.
Then this was pretty sweet: Matt Stajan took a penalty for tripping up Letang. While they were dicking around with the puck trying to enter the zone, Mikael Backlund took it away and got in with a very abbreviated two-on-one. Mark Giordano went to the net and got all up in Fleury’s business. As Backlund crossed over to utilize Giordano’s occupation of space in the crease, Giordano inhibited MAF’s ability to get to his angle. So as Backlund let a quick little snapshot go, Fleury just YOLOed and saved it spinning with the back of his head.
Don’t care if it was intentional or not. DENIED!
Flames continued to generate chances, leading in shots 22-19, but still couldn’t solve Fleury as their home goalless streak approached the 200-minute mark.
The Pens looked to have a chance to break the game open when Monahan went to the box for hooking up Jussi Jokinen. But in what has become the traditional way to kill penalties against the Penguins as of late, Malkin evened things up for holding Mark Giordano. Easily the third or fourth time in the past week the Penguins have negated one of their own power plays with a penalty of their own.
Then Robert Brotuzzo, who had been playing a pretty strong game to the point, got Mark Giordano in a vulnerable position. As Brotuzzo tried to outlet the puck up the wall to his winger, Flames’ captain Giordano stepped in front to take the pass away. His momentum was carrying him toward the boards and he was never going to be able to avoid a collision. Collisions with Brotuzzo are usually violent and unpleasant. This one certainly was both of those things:
Not sure how we feel about this one. If it were someone running Crosby, we’d probably be just as pissed as Mike Cammalerri was. But this one might look a lot worse than it really was. People will immediately point to the flying elbow and the fact that Brotuzzo did leave his feet. But so far as we can tell, both of those things happen as a result of the hit. It’s natural for a hit to cause the hitter to leave the ice slightly. Same thing with the arm extending – Brotuzzo’s elbow comes up, but the contact actually begins with his upper arm. The elbow comes through, but it wasn’t swung into the hit nor did it catch Gio.
Either way, Brotuzzo got rung up for 5 and a match penalty. So of course ROOT made it a really big deal that the Penguins can just move Mr. Versatility Deryk Engelland back to play defense.
Cammalerri started being a general dick to just about everyone in existence. Guy will most certainly be in a lot of discussions when the deadline gets closer. Wink wink. He took a really dumb retaliatory penalty on Sutter, though. Penguins couldn’t make anything happen on the PP.
And just as the penalty was expiring, Mikael Backlund went HAM. He chipped a puck with one hand and carried a ton of speed through the neutral zone. Then he ran over Kris Letang like he was texting on the Turnpike. Blew it by the Flower to finally break a nearly 175-minute home scoreless streak. Technically still a 4-on-4 goal, which didn’t really matter because Brotuzzo’s penalty was a 5-minute major.
What a nice player Backlund is. He was everywhere in the first matchup with the Penguins, too. All the sudden, the game got tense.
Joe Colborne almost made Fleury pay for a misplay behind the cage by equalizing the game, but shot it just wide.
Penguins had to grab their collective sacs going into the final 3:00 with the Flames really pushing hard to tie the game up at 2. Berra headed for the bench with a bit over 90 seconds left. Penguins weathered it and kept Calgary out of the zone and away from anything threatening.
1) Matt Niskanen with another huge goal for this Penguins team. He’s been a revelation this year, to the point where maybe we should just stop being surprised. He’s got 6 goals on the season, 5 of which are game-winning goals. On a team with all this star power, Niskanen leads the club in decisive markers.
2) Aside from Vancouver, Western Canada hockey is basically shit. But to go out for three games and take home five of six points is big. A big part of this league is beating the teams that you should beat, and the Penguins did just that.
3) Calgary isn’t a strong offensive team, as the broadcast made sure that we were well aware, but Marc-Andre Fleury was once again doing some crazy voodoo shit to keep the puck out of the net. He’s got a league leading 26 wins, 3 more than second-place Antii Niemi.
4) Although most of the teams trailing the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division do have some games in hand, the Penguins now hold an 18-point lead over second-place Washington. It’s the largest gap in the league by a wide margin (Anaheim leads San Jose by 11 points).
Speaking of Washington, the Penguins have a few days off before hosting Ovi and the Caps on Wednesday.