Riding an early offensive flourish and a suddenly potent power play, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on Monday night in front of 18,101 fans inside Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center. The Penguins (4-3) won their third straight game while the struggling Senators (1-4-1) remained at the foot of the Eastern Conference Standings. Brent Johnson tallied his fourth win in four starts for the Penguins, turning away 32 of 34 shots.
The hosts shot early and often, putting up 17 of their 29 total shots on the evening in the first period. While it isn't surprising to see the Penguins pepper the opposition, it is more peculiar to see it on the power play. Suddenly potent, the Penguins scored two power play goals to open the night's scoring.
The first came when Mike Comrie saw the impressive Mark Letestu drifting open into the slot. Comrie's pass was accurate and Letestu's wrist shot devastatingly effective, going over the glove hand of Brian Elliot and opening the scoring just before the midway point of the first period.
Another power play goal from Sidney Crosby and an airborne, diving swipe at a loose puck by Evgeni Malkin (for which words can't really do justice) put the Penguins up 3-0 after the first.
Ottawa's captain Daniel Alfredsson brought the Senators back within one before Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang each scored his first goal of the season within 25 seconds of one another to force Elliot to the bench, as rookie goaltender Robin Lehner came in for a period and a half of action. Chris Campoli's third period goal finished the scoring on the evening as the contest sputtered to a 5-2 finish.
What Went Right:
While we typically go over a few things that went right on the evening, I'm going to focus tonight's space on how a little wrinkle finally made the Penguins' top power play unit click:
What we'd seen early in the season was Alex Goligoski manning Sergei Gonchar's typical spot at the top of the point. Tonight, Kris Letang was found high, with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby effectively rotating duties supporting him on either side. With Chris Kunitz occupying the power forward role, Goligoski had room to roam around.
Where Goligoski has been ineffective this season is decision-making, especially with time on the puck like you typically get at the point. Where he has been extremely effective is putting his exceptional skill set to full use. This rotation allowed Malkin and Crosby to control the puck more often than Goligoski and get more shots on target. When the situation was right, Goligoski would rotate high and allow Crosby to get in tight on goal, while also still being active on the man advantage.
The early portion of the Penguins' second power play attempt shows the former in action, while the latter can be seen on the second power play goal, where Crosby and Malkin were both found within a few feet of goal. By letting Goligoski effectively occupy whatever position was left empty on the rink, it created match-up problems for the Senators.
Lots of movement and lots of shots leads to a good power play. If the Penguins play the power play similarly for the rest of the season, they will be a match up headache for any opponent, especially with the continued virility of the second power play unit.
What Went Wrong:
- It's hard to find something to gripe about in a 5-2 win, but, if it weren't for an assured performance early and late in the game from Brent Johnson, the outcome could have been drastically different. Ottawa's 12 shots on goal in an open, attacking first period were all, impressively, turned aside, while Johnson made up for a number of third-period defensive lapses, including a sprawling poke check to deny a Mike Fisher breakaway.
Though you can nitpick that Johnson lost his angle for the Senators' first goal, his performance likely turned a potential 5-3 or 5-4 game into the considerably more comfortable one. It's becoming increasingly difficult to piece together an argument for relegating Johnson back to the bench.
- It was painful watching Maxime Talbot easily beat former Penguins fan favorite Sergei Gonchar short-handed in the third period. With the Penguins on the penalty kill, Talbot found himself near the boards one-on-one with Gonchar.
Talbot turned his half-step into a large cushion and easily turned the corner on Gonchar, before holding the ex-Penguins defenseman at bay and forcing him to take a penalty. The play brought back memories of Gonchar being brushed aside by Travis Moen in last year's playoffs and, as a fan of the player, you'd like to see a little more defensive steel from him.
For the Penguins, though, it was a good play for Talbot on a night where he was scrappy and effective. Rare are the nights where "What Went Wrong" features two things that went right.
-Jordan Staal begun limited skating last week. He should still be out for another month or so.
-Arron Asham should be back from his shoulder injury by the end of October.
-Brooks Orpik sat out with a groin injury once again and appears to be day-to-day.
-Zbynek Michalek's shoulder injury should keep him out for another two or three weeks.