Published on February 2nd, 2013 | by James Conley2
Penguins 5, Devils 1. Sidney Crosby Keys Pens to First Home Win
It took three contests and perhaps a wake-up call in the loss to the Islanders, but the Penguins finally won their first of the season at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday, 5-1 over the New Jersey Devils. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz had a goal and two assists apiece.
Robert Bortuzzo scored his first NHL goal in his eighth career game with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh moved from third to first in the division with the win, passing the Devils, who have dropped four in a row and lost their first regulation contest of the year Saturday.
Has Sidney Crosby shaken off the rust? Much of Crosby’s early season was marked by uncharacteristic turnovers and too much passing. Saturday, Crosby played inspired hockey in the offensive zone, looking at last like the player who scored 37 points in just 22 games a year ago.
Crosby earned assists on the goals by Sutter and Bortuzzo, and for maybe the first time this year chose not to pass on an odd-man rush, slinging one over Brodeur’s glove hand for his fifth goal of the year.
The goal had a putting-the-foot-down feeling about it. Crosby’s line had its best game, collectively, of the season, accounting for two goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating.
Elsewhere, Pittsburgh’s new faces continue to have an impact. LW Zach Boychuk appeared in his first game with the Penguins on Evgeni Malkin’s wing. Though Boychuk had no points in his first action with the Penguins, he immediately looked at home with Malkin and Neal.
Linemates for more than a season, Malkin and Neal have perhaps the best chemistry as a duo on the team. That’s going to make it difficult for anyone to slide into the third position on that line, even if their skillset matches nicely with 71 and 18. Boychuk appeared to be an immediate fit, or at least as much as healthy scratch Dustin Jeffrey was in his two games on the second line. Boychuk’s skill allowed him to keep cycles alive and create scoring chances, and he left an impression in just 12:00 minutes of ice time.
It seems that the Penguins acquired a good player who just lost out to the depth chart on his former club. Much like Brian Strait, who recently signed a three-year contract extension with the Islanders after being waived by the Penguins prior to the season, Boychuk could excel with a club where the depth chart won’t limit his minutes and play him out of his comfort zone.
Continuing the trend of new faces making an impact, Robert Bortuzzo stepped out in a big way Saturday, scoring his first NHL goal and showing no signs that he had been a healthy scratch for the team’s first six games. Bortuzzo’s goal came as the result of a simple play yielding good results. Bortuzzo earned 12:27 TOI in his second game—not a great deal, but a slight increase over his first contest.
Like Despres has been in his action this season (and was again Saturday), Bortuzzo is finding success by making simple plays and remaining responsible in his own zone. That style of play has looked especially smart at times this year, as the Pens’ stars have had a tendency to outsmart themselves and make countless turnovers.
If the Penguins’ defense pairings were the team’s biggest question mark heading into the season, the team should be plenty happy with how the unit has responded in eight games so far. The Martin-Orpik pairing has become a reliable tandem and Kris Letang has always been a known asset, but the continuing emergence of Despres and Bortuzzo—especially in light of Matt Niskanen’s injury—has been an excellent story, if not a surprise, for the Penguins.
Pittsburgh has at times been loathe to trust its prospects to produce at the NHL level. So far, their young defensemen have rewarded them.
Some other post-game thoughts:
- Another solid outing for Brandon Sutter. Gets his first goal with the Penguins and has still not been on the ice for a goal against at even-strength. New Jersey’s top-two lines didn’t have a great game, but the Penguins shut them down nonetheless, allowing just 16 shots on goal in the contest.
- Marc-Andre Fleury looked very good. One wonders what his numbers might look like if the team played that kind of defense in front of him every night. Fleury faced only 16 shots on goal but did his part with smart rebound control and a number of excellent saves late in the third period as the Devils tried to make it a contest.
- Hard to imagine how Tyler Kennedy is a better option than Dustin Jeffrey at this point. Kennedy was responsible for a number of turnovers and bad passes, finishing with 2 SOG and just over 13:00 minutes TOI.
- The Penguins have won three straight over the Devils dating back to last year by a combined score of 15-5. New Jersey started with 3 wins and points in each of its first six games before the loss in Pittsburgh. It’ll take some time to assess the loss of Zach Parise in context, but the Devils have lost four straight after reeling off three wins to begin the year.
- Pittsburgh’s power play continues to be a liability. The shorthanded goal against was no aberration, and the unit seemed to spend as much time defending as pushing the play. It’s time to reconsider Malkin’s spot on the point, especially given his one-timer from the right wall. The unit saw Martin and Letang man the points late in the third with Crosby, Malkin and Neal up front. If Martin continues his smart brand of hockey, this unit should be a constant. Neal and Malkin have both struggled on the point, a position Steve Sullivan nicely took care of a season ago.
The Penguins take on the Capitals for the first time this season Sunday, at 12:30. Washington is 2-5-1 on the season, 13th in the conference.