Penguins Go Streaking
The Pittsburgh Penguins are on a streak that hasn't been matched in the Steel City since Super Mario, Rick Tocchet, Ron Francis and Double J laced them up in 1992-93.
Tonight they put their 12 game winning streak and 15 game points streak on the line against their cross state rival in Philadelphia.
So what can you say about this streak, Sid has been out of his mind (but thats been talked about a lot), Fleury has silenced his critics (for now at least), Martin & Michalek have settled in at the blue line and an unconventional third line has developed in Pittsburgh.
For the last three years the key to the Penguins success has been their ability to role out three very productive lines. Formerly the "Sesame Street" line of Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke took the ice to wear down opponents after they had already dealt with the likes of Malkin and Crosby. They were arguably the best 3rd line in hockey with a mix of speed, grit, physical play and goal scoring.
With Staal's injuries and the eventual move to 2nd line center upon his return, it looked as if the Pens were sacrificing their depth down the middle and ability to role three very good lines.
Little did anyone know about the "Buzzers Line".
Centered by Mark Letestu with Chris Connor on a wing, both of whom played primarily in Scranton-Wilkes Barre last year, along with Tyler Kennedy they are one of the biggest reasons for the Penguins recent success.
Since Chris Connor was called up from the farm the Penguins are 14-0-1.
Ranging in height from 5'11" to 5'8" they aren't the conventional big hulking third line. The "Buzzers Line" gets it done not with their size, but with puck possession, tenacious puck retrieval and speed. They chip in on the score sheet as well with 6 goals and 10 assists during the 12 game winning streak.
When Sergei Gonchar left for Ottawa and Dan Hamhuis declined to sign with Pittsburgh in the offseason, many wondered what would happen to the already suspect Penguins defense core.
Then Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero stepped in and signed Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin.
While Big Z had a shoulder injury early and Paul Martin had trouble adjusting to the system during the first two months, these two are now clicking on all cylinders and have become the Penguins' shutdown defense pairing.
Michalek wins most puck battles along the boards and has made shot-blocking an art form in the NHL. He leads the Penguins in blocked shots with 54 with 9 games missed this season.
The smooth skating Paul Martin is second on the Pens behind Michalek with 53 blocked shots and has cut down on his turnovers in the neutral zone. He is a +6 during the 12-game winning streak.
The new shutdown pair in Pittsburgh, along with Kris Letang's incredible start to the season has helped turn the Penguins into one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. Pittsburgh is 5th in total goals allowed this season, and haven't given up more than 2 goals in their last 10 games.
Always with his critics, Marc-Andre Fleury has had an incredible stretch of games. Brent Johnson came through early while MAF struggled and has looked good in a few spot starts since. Right now The Flower is back to making timely saves en route to his 11 game winning streak. He was named the NHL's 2nd star of the week after posting a 3-0-0 record, 1.67 GAA and .944 save percentage and is starting to creep into the Vezina discussion.
Right now a productive third line, shutdown defense pairing, great goaltending......and oh yea a superstar playing out of his mind has produced a 12 game winning streak in Pittsburgh. As with anything there is room to improve-- the third defense pairing of Goligoski and Engelland could be better, Staal should return at some point and Geno Malkin's production is down. Those things aside the Pens are first in the NHL in points with a big game on tap tonight, I'd say things are looking pretty good in Penguinland.
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