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The Morning After: Pittsburgh Penguins Earn First Victory Of The Season In 3-1 Win Over The New Jersey Devils

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The Pittsburgh Penguins notched their first win of the season by a 3-1 score against the New Jersey Devils on Monday afternoon behind an impressive 30-save performance from Brent Johnson.

 

What Went Right:

- Mark Letestu has quickly established himself as an important cog in the Penguins' machine. Letestu plays with a motor, shows good hands and an ability to accurately put the puck on target, and is effective on faceoffs. What was once a question mark appears to be turning into an answer.

- Paul Martin continued to look a good signing. Martin spent 26:41 on the ice and put up his first goal of the year, an empty-netter to ice the game, to go along with an assist. Martin is an obvious asset for the Penguins

- End to end, the two-way effort of the Penguins was impressive, especially through the first two periods. The forecheck was hard, the backcheck was ever-present, and the Penguins managed to draw most of their six power play opportunities by swarming and out-working the Devils. Sidney Crosby drawing a holding call from Ilya Kovalchuk in the first period was an excellent example of this.

- Brent Johnson was the opposite of Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday. Most of his movements were short and precise, and he was only caught overreacting on one play. Johnson is a very capable backup and games like yesterday's are why the team signed him to a multi-year deal in the offseason.

What Went Wrong:

- The power play was once again atrocious, especially the top unit. The Penguins finished the game 1 for 6 on the man (and two man) advantage, converting late on a second period power play with the second unit on the ice. The Penguins now sit at 2 for 17 on the season. A few things seem to be hampering the unit thus far, but the one point I remain fixated on is defenseman Alex Goligoski.

Goligoski has some serious tools, including a blistering slapshot, but his effectiveness with time on the puck is minimal. He is as easy to read from the couch as he is on the ice, and opposing defensemen often key on his mistakes and his deference to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In the Penguins' current setup, the only players consistently taking shots are, unsurprisingly, Crosby and Malkin, which is an easy tendency for opponents to exploit. Goligoski needs to get more pucks on target and lend the forwards opportunities to crash the net and score a sloppy goal or two.

- Mike Comrie was essentially reduced to a specialist. Comrie recorded 8:24 of even-strength time, the second-lowest total on the team behind Zbynek Michalek, who left the game early. Comrie did, however, end up with 16:23 of ice time on the evening... so where did the remainder of his minutes come from? 7:59 on an ineffective power play in which he was largely invisible.

-Though Crosby came out on fire tonight, he and Malkin were held without a point. The Penguins are getting scoring from places that they didn't for most of last year. A major talking point through the offseason was the apparent lack of support beyond the Penguins' dynamic duo. The opposite has been true through three games so far.

Three games is not yet a pattern, merely a sample. Common sense suggests that Crosby and Malkin will pile on the points at some point or another. But, in analyzing the start of the year, it's something worth keeping an eye on until their inevitable slump-busting game.

VERDICT:

- Finally, a hard-fought victory. The Penguins played well for much of the game, with the Devils only showing dominance during a short, sustained flurry in the third period. Lapses of that nature, however, could have handed the Devils a win. Not a perfect game, but the Penguins take all two points.

INJURY REPORT:

- Brooks Orpik was a late scratch with an apparent groin injury. His status is unknown.

- Zbynek Michalek left the game in the second period with an apparent shoulder injury and did not return.

- Jordan Staal is still out indefinitely via a foot infection.

- Arron Asham is out with a shoulder injury.

GAME SUMMARY:

First period:

Sidney Crosby began the game with what could be described as a message of intent. Winning the opening faceoff forward through the legs of Devils center Travis Zajac, Crosby beat defenseman Henrik Tallinder to the outside before getting a half-shot off on target.

The pressure would come early and often for the Penguins, obviously pressing against a Devils squad playing with only nine forwards.

Brent Johnson was relatively inactive until Dainus Zubrus beat a poorly positioned Kris Letang wide before swooping in with a power move and crashing in Johnson's net. The Penguins netminder was up to the task and the score remained null.

With the period winding down, the Penguins forced Martin Brodeur into a handful of saves. Letestu and Martin were visible much of the shift, getting pucks on target and looking lively.

As the puck eventually found Ilya Kovalchuk just outside of the Devils' zone, Eric Tangradi engaged and tied up the dynamic Russian. Seeing an opportunity, Goligoski poked the puck foward into the Devils zone, carried it down the left wing and unleashed a slapshot that beat Brodeur on the far side. 1-0 Penguins with one period down.

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After the first:

Score: Pittsburgh 1 - 0 New Jersey

Shots: 15 -8

Scoring: PIT: Goligoski 1 ( Tangradi)

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Second period:

Sidney Crosby once again opened the period with a flourish, coming out energetic and effective and forcing a penalty from a prone Patrik Elias. Though the first power-play unit was shown ineffective once more, the same couldn't be said for the second unit.

With the puck high, Paul Martin, booed by Devils' fans every time he touched the puck, saucered a cross-ice pass to Kris Letang, who took little time in firing a shot towards a heavily screened goal. The puck struck Mark Letestu's skate before ricocheting off of Henrik Tallinder and past Martin Brodeur. 2-0 Penguins early in the second frame.

Much of the period went by before the Devils found themselves on one of their two power plays. Though down a man, the Penguins started out brilliantly on the kill, springing Maxime Talbot on a semi-breakaway. Talbot's shot was saved by Brodeur, before a high-flying rebound led to a goalmouth fracas.

The Devils, finally regaining possession, took it back to the Penguins' zone before giving it away cheaply, springing Matt Cooke and Craig Adams on a 2-on-1 rush. Cooke's pass found its way to his teammate, though Adams' shot went wide of goal.

The two chances appeared to awaken the Devils and New Jersey would soon put intense pressure on the Penguins' goal. The Devils put on a passing clinic, with Kovalchuk going cross ice to an open Patrik Elias, who fired a quick pass in tight on Jason Arnott. With the Penguins' defense left dizzied by the quick passing, Arnott could only only manage an errant swing at the puck, keeping the Penguins' lead at two.

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After the second:

Score: Pittsburgh 0 - 2 New Jersey

Shots: 23-16

Scoring: PIT: Letestu 2 (Letang, Martin)

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Third period:

After an uneventful start to the period, the Devils gradually took control of the game. With chances mounting, an impressive Brent Johnson maintained a shutout bid through 48:20. With the faceoff deep in the Penguins' zone, Jason Arnott would cleanly beat Mark Letestu on the draw, teeing up Patrik Elias to fire home. The Penguins' lead was halved at 2-1.

The Devils kept the pressure up, with Johnson being forced to make more stops just after the goal, most importantly stopping Dave Clarkson from point blank range. Johnson's string of saves would eventually give the Penguins a chance to creep back into the game and slow the Devils' momentum.

New Jersey would have one more real chance to level things up. With just over three minutes to go, Travis Zajac found himself one on one with Alex Goligoski near the top of the slot in the Penguins' zone. Goligoski prematurely went to the ground, allowing the Devils center to go around Goligoski. Johnson, seeing himself at risk, aggressively challenged Zajac, forcing him behind the net.

This left the goalmouth open with Johnson drawn far out of position. Zajac, quickly seeing the opportunity, attempted to stuff the puck in the net only to be denied by the sprawling Johnson and recovering Craig Adams.

The Penguins would ice the game with seconds left. Paul Martin, breaking up a pass deep in the Penguins' zone, got the puck forward to Chris Kunitz, who softly chipped the puck out of the Penguins' zone. With Martin Brodeur pulled, Martin found himself on a 2-on-0 alongside Craig Adams, with an empty net looming. Martin, the former Devils defender, though usually unselfish, couldn't help but finish off the scoring in his homecoming. 3-1 Penguins.

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FINAL STATS:

Pittsburgh 3 - 1 New Jersey

Shots 30 -31

Third Period Scoring: PIT: Martin 1 (Kunitz); NJ: Elias 1 (Arnott)

Penalties:

Attendance: 12,880

Goaltenders:

PIT: Johnson - 30 saves on 31 shots

NJ: Brodeur - 28 saves on 30 shots

Three Stars:

3. PHI: Dainus Zubrus (0g, 0a) - Zubrus was effective in both ends of the ice and was robbed by Johnson early in the contest. Though he didn't score, he played well for the Devils.

2. PIT: D- Paul Martin (1g, 1a) - Johnson was effective in all facets of the game while logging a herculean amount of ice time.

1. PIT: G- Brent Johnson - Johnson's precise movements and rebound control paved the way for an important road victory for the Penguins.

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Post-Game Quotes (via NHL.com):

Paul Martin on the crowd's reaction to his return:

"It was a weird feeling even coming up to today because I didn't know what to expect," Martin said. "I didn't know how the crowd would react. I had a lot of good memories here and it's always tough, but you put that behind you. I'm a Penguin now, the guys have been great, we're having fun and it's good to get that first win."

Martin on his empty-net goal:

"It's one of those things where I knew I had time and the puck was kind of rolling on end and I saw Adams a little late and was undecided on what to do (pass or shoot)," Martin said. "I was never in that situation so when I got back to the bench I started thinking about what I should have done. Really, though, it was just good to win."

Brent Johnson on Martin's empty-net goal:

"Yeah, that was really cool when Paul scored," Johnson said. "I was very excited. First off, I was just happy when we got the puck out of the zone, but when I saw the two-on-none the other way, I was even happier."

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.