Depth and Resiliency Key Big Comeback Win for Penguins

I have said on multiple occasions that this Pittsburgh team is not deep enough to beat a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference Finals or in the Stanley Cup finals.

Now, as is the usual case, I might be wrong.

The Pittsburgh Penguins turned the tide in game one by using the following combinations.

Kunitz – Crosby – Gibbons

Bennett – Sutter – Stempniak

Jokinen – Malkin – Neal

Glass – Vitale – Adams

The result was three lines that could not only skate well, but that could pressure enough to score goals.

The game started out as a physical battle that heavily leaned toward the Columbus Blue Jackets. They were all over Pittsburgh and their stars early on. Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner were in the faces of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin respectively for the majority of the game. Unfortunately for these players, they did not shut them down.

Crosby finished the night a minus two, but won 58% of his faceoffs and had a puck possession ratio 60%. The minus two came courtesy of a Kris Letang giveaway at center ice while on the powerplay, leading to a shorthanded goal, and a Bennett turnover at the blue line of the defensive zone, which led to an odd man break for Columbus.

Crosby was only credited with two shots on net and 6 attempts. His wingers did not fare much better. Brain Gibbons and Chris Kunitz missed out on a few big opportunities early in the third period. Crosby set both players up for open net shots, only to have both of said shots sail wide. If this line is to play the same style of hockey that they did in game one, the goals will certainly come.

Evgeni Malkin and his line had early success in this game. Malkin, coming off a three week absence with a foot injury, was soaring on the ice. His feed to Jussi Jokinen in the slot tied the game early at one, but it was his skating and strength that gave the Penguins a big advantage.

His linemates, Jokinen and Neal, looked passive and slow. Neal was especially off last night and could barely be seen outside of his neutral zone puck carrying responsibilities. One should expect this line to pick up speed as time goes on, but Neal and Jokinen have to be more difficult to play against in this series.

Beau Bennett had a goal and an assist to go along with his new role as the third line left winger. Bennett had two egregious turnovers early in the game, one leading to the opening goal for Columbus, and was taken off the top line by the end of the period. He was placed on a line with Brandon Sutter and Lee Stempniak as “punishment”.

The result of said punishment was the game winning goal by Brandon Sutter, thanks in part to Stempniak stealing the puck at center ice, springing Bennett and Sutter on a two on one. The line showed great speed and scoring ability, as well as a strong presence in the corners. Stempniak and Bennett are good players down low and really aid Sutter in his defensive roles.

This line might not remain together for much longer, given the Penguins plans of making Bennett a top six winger with Crosby, but it certainly was effective in game one.

The most crucial element of the Penguins win was their ability to bounce back and not fall into the trap.

Pittsburgh trailed early in the second period by a score of 3-1; however, they were able to quickly score on the power play that just surrendered a shorthanded goal. It was only a few minutes later that the Penguins power play struck again thanks to a good low shot by Matt Niskanen that found the five hole.

Being out hit, out shot, and out played was not part of the game plan, but one must give credit to the Penguins ability to bounce back strong. They did not take many retaliatory penalties, just one actually thanks to Kris Letang, and they did not get caught up in many post whistle altercations.

What the Penguins did do was take the punches and roll with them. They let Columbus play that game, but countered that game with speed and scoring. It is something that has eluded them in the past. This is not to say the Penguins have matured over night, it is great to see this but a long series takes its toll on people. The composure might not last another five games.

The only thing that truly matters is that it lasted in this game. Instead of lying down, or giving in to the Jackets, the Penguins fought back with hockey. That is a big sign of growth for this club. Add the composed play, comeback victory, and coaching staffs ability to manage in game well and this team might be better than many thought.

Snapshots

Brandon Sutter might have found his niche with the Penguins after all. The center was supposedly the key piece to a Penguins deal for Ryan Kesler, but was kept on board when the Canucks wouldn’t play ball. His game winning goal was one of many big goals Sutter has scored for the Penguins.

He had three shorthanded goals on the season and came up big in crucial moments last season to boost the Penguins in crunch time. With two wingers of skill and grit, Sutter is looking like a legitimate third line scoring center.

Marc-Andre Fleury had a good game on Wednesday. He will need to be much better as the playoffs move forward, but when the Penguins were down by three goals early in the second period, Fleury stepped up. He played very strong in the final 38 minutes, securing a great comeback victory for the Penguins