Penguins Break Through Against Anaheim

The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves less than two months into their 2013-14 campaign and, yet, the club has already experienced a tale of two seasons.  Indeed, the Pens jumped out of the gate with an impressive 7-1 start to the year, highlighted by Sidney Crosby’s initial otherworldly point production that the hockey world hadn’t witnessed since the days of Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.  As we approach Thanksgiving, though, that hot start has quickly fizzled; the Pens’ big guns have been firing blanks as the club inexplicably struggles to put pucks in the net.

After losing four of five, Dan Bylsma had seen enough, finally shaking up his top three lines in the hope of jump starting what is typically one of the circuit’s most explosive squads.  And, so, heading into a Monday night showdown against Anaheim, the Pens’ decided to go with three new trios up front:

Kunitz-Crosby-Bennett

Dupuis-Malkin-Neal

Jokinen-Sutter-Gibbons

Ideally, each unit would benefit from the new look:

  • Bennett will add a dynamic stick-handling skill to his unit. And with his high hockey IQ, there’s a chance he and Crosby could really hit it off as they both think the game on another level.
  • Dupuis gives his unit an extra burst of speed. His quick legs should create some breakout opportunities and stretch the ice. He’s also a player that can get in hard on the forecheck and create some open ice for the talents of Malkin and Neal.
  • Jokinen and Sutter played together in the past while in Carolina. They both have a familiarity with each other and good chemistry. Jokinen will add a dangerous scoring threat to the third line with his skill level.

But, hey, life would be pretty boring if things always went according to plan.

The Penguins’ Slow Start

Fleury turned in another strong performance against Anaheim to give the Pens a chance to win.
Fleury turned in another strong performance against Anaheim to give the Pens a chance to win.

Despite the optimism that came with a shake up, Pittsburgh was lucky to escape the first period with a scoreless tie.  In fact, the Ducks completely dominated the Penguins early on, preventing the home team from even registering a shot for roughly 18 minutes to open the contest.  All told, Anaheim outshot the Pens 12-3 in the opening frame, as Marc-Andre Fleury almost single-handedly kept his club in the game.

While the ice leveled in the second period, the Penguins scoring woes continued.  What’s more, the new-look lines failed to produce.  Bylsma began deploying the “Two-Headed Monster”, pairing Sid with Geno in the hopes of creating some offense.  And while the stars started creating chances as the period moved along, the only results proved to be missed opportunities and additional frustration.

The Stars Break Through

When things aren’t going well, a team’s best players need to step up and put the squad on their back.  And that’s exactly what happened Monday night.

While Evgeni Malkin is still suffering through his extensive goal scoring drought, he did take the game over as the night wore on.  At no point was that more evident than when he swooped into the Anaheim end of the ice, galloped around helpless defenders and effortlessly set up Brian Gibbons’ first career goal to give the Pens the lead.

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He may not have finished the play but this was “vintage” Geno, a reminder of what makes him one of the top players in the world.  And, after capping off what turned into a dominating performance with his second assist of the night on Pittsburgh’s final marker, Malkin clearly looked less frustrated and more confident by night’s end.  Given that he’s racking up the assists (10 in 8 games) and starting to make more plays, it may only be a matter of time before the floodgates open for Geno.

For his part, Sid created his share of opportunities as the game went on, as well.  And, following several missed opportunities set up by the captain, Crosby took matters into his own hands, icing the game late in the third with his tenth tally of the season.

While it was only Sidney’s second goal in 11 games, it may have signified a light at the end of the tunnel for the superstar’s drought.  After the way he (and Malkin) fought through a suffocating start to the contest to eventually create chances, produce and lead the Pens to victory, it’s plausible the Pens may soon return to form as an offensive juggernaut.

Clearly, with that talent, it was only a matter of time before the duo began to break through.  Much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, that time may very well be now.