Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins continued where they left off before the bye week. Sharp passes, an aggressive forecheck and offense from the top of the lineup overwhelmed the middling Detroit Red Wings at PPG Paints Arena, 4-1. The Penguins have won three in a row.
The Penguins big guns led the way. Malkin had two goals and four points. Phil Kessel had a goal and three points. Sidney Crosby had a power-play goal and a power-play assist.
Three minutes into the game, Malkin scored his first of the game. With sustained offensive pressure, Penguins winger Carl Hagelin was the first on a loose puck behind the net. Hagelin’s quick stuff-in attempt bounced off Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, into the slot, and onto Malkin’s stick. Malkin (18) went top shelf over Howard’s glove hand, 1-0.
“I heard Geno in front. It was a pass,” Hagelin said with a wry smile.
Late in the first period, the Penguins power-play continued its aetherial run. A stunningly precise zone entry led to a Phil Kessel goal. Kessel streaked to the net behind the Red Wings defense. Sidney Crosby zipped a cross-ice pass to Kessel, in stride, on the doorstep. Kessel (19) neatly tapped it in, 2-1.
The Penguins power-play was 2-4.
Two minutes into the second period, Malkin delivered the knockout blow. The Penguins crashed the offensive zone, with defenseman Matt Hunwick provided a center drive (In our film review, published separately, I’ll show how dangerous the play was). Kessel passed to Malkin in the slot. Malkin kicked the puck to his stick and whipped it past Howard, glove side. 3-1.
The Penguins second power-play goal was a visual testament to Crosby’s intangible hockey sense and physical ability.
Phil Kessel’s pass was intended for Crosby in the slot. Red Wings penalty killer Frans Nielsen stepped in front of Crosby, but never touched the puck. Crosby (16) picked Nielsen’s stick then shot the puck at the end of the motion.
Unbelievable play. 4-1. Game, set, match.
“Maybe we just…we turned the switch,” said Hagelin. “Guys are more enthusiastic at the rink. Guys are moving. We’re bringing more energy everyday.”
The Red Wings were competitive for the first 23 minutes. Justin Abdelkader netted a power-play goal late in the first period, which tied the game, 1-1. Tomas Tatar’s shot hit Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry’s mask. Abdelkader took advantage of soft defense by Matt Hunwick to slip the puck past Jarry.
Jarry was stellar. He stopped 29 of 30 shots. “You can feel the excitement around the room,” Jarry said.
The Penguins did take seven minor penalties.
Analysis and Pressbox Nachos
–The Hagelin-Malkin-Hornqvist line elevated the Penguins. It’s a nice mix of puck retrieval, speed and…Evgeni Malkin. Mike Sullivan said about the same.
“(I told Malkin), let Horny go to the net and wreak havoc. Let Hagy retrieve the puck.” (Please register my objection to printing “Horny” in any story.)
Hagelin was especially active on the PK. He played 8:02 shorthanded. “Those are hard minutes,” he chuckled.
If you missed it, check out Jake Holmes’ breakdown of Carl Hagelin’s game. It very much fit the game, Saturday.
–The Penguins room is feeling it. Check the quotes from Hagelin and Jarry above. Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Crosby about confidence and swagger. Crosby, in his own way, admitted same but looked forward. “We can’t rest on it”.
Not nearly as sexy as Hagelin’s quote, eh?
–The only downside to the Penguins win were the spate of penalties. Seven total. Today, they get a pass because of the bye week. Another performance in which they yield nearly 14 minutes of power-play time would be dangerous.
–It’s tough to evaluate lines or players when more than one-third of the game is played on special teams.
The good–he skated hard to backcheck speedy Dylan Larkin in the first period.
The bad–A couple shifts he chased the puck to the left wing (he’s a right wing) and didn’t recover his position. Dominik Simon in both cases quickly flipped to the opposite side to cover.
Little things like that can lead to bad things. It’s not all sunshine with Sprong, but he is playing significantly better than he did in WBS.
To illustrate the importance of continued defensive responsibility: Phil Kessel coasted back to his zone in the first period. Center Jake Guentzel made a strong defensive play along the wall and chipped it forward, but Kessel was not yet to the zone. The Red Wings maintained possession and drew a penalty.
It was a momentary blip on an otherwise excellent game for Kessel–but it underscores the importance of each shift and hopefully provides the context why this writer has made a point to examine Sprong’s game beyond his offense thoroughly.
–We’re going to make a video review part of our standard postgame coverage. Click back for that tomorrow. Matt Hunwick will not show well. Phil Kessel will show well. Crosby and Malkin? They look like great players, don’t they?
Lastly, it was a Saturday afternoon game. The Penguins were winning, 4-1. Where were fans going? Can’t use the “I have to work” line. That was a national game, and the nation saw thousands of empty seats as Evgeni Malkin went for a hat trick.