Published on February 3rd, 2013 | by James Conley0
Weekend at Crosby’s: Penguins 6, Capitals 3
We’re just about three weeks removed from the first day of NHL training camp. Typical NHL training camps last three weeks, with five or six exhibition games sprinkled in. In three weeks since the beginning of 2013 training camps, the Penguins have played nine games and are almost 20 percent of the way through their regular season schedule.
Cup favorites. Fire everyone. Fourteen goals in three games. The season has already endured what would typically be three months of up and down play and hyperbole, but perhaps that’s to be expected coming out of 40-yard dash from training camp to competitive hockey.
The Penguins still have holes in their game plan and holes in their line-up. But the season is progressing, and perhaps all that was needed was the proper amount of time to correct issues that might otherwise have been corrected in training camp. Given just a second to take a breath, the Pens have gone from three losses in four games to three wins in a row, and have perhaps begun to answer questions about their work ethic and systems play that seemed so dire five days ago.
Pittsburgh capped a 14-goal weekend hat trick with a 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals, moving from tenth to second in the East in the process. Chris Kunitz earned a hat trick and Sidney Crosby had three assists as the Penguins skated to their sixth win of the season and third in four days.
“Not a typical game, but nice to see us capitalize on the chances we got,” Crosby said.
The win leaves Pittsburgh a point shy of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference, while the Capitals drop another two points at home en route to clinching the worst winning percentage in the East.
Crosby, after a slowish start to his season, came alive in the three games since Thursday’s tilt with the Rangers. He has seven points (1G, 6A) in his last three games, including three point performances in back-to-back wins against the Devils and Capitals.
Sunday, Crosby assisted on goals by Paul Martin and two by Kunitz, including Kunitz’ hat trick-clinching goal on a late 5-on-3 power play.
“It was intense,” Crosby said, “and like I’ve said we’ve played a lot of hockey here, so we just wanted to come in and play a good road game.”
As Crosby has come alive, so has his first line, which seemed somewhat embattled during losses in Winnipeg and against the Maple Leafs and Islanders. All told, the Penguins’ first line now has accounted for 29 points in 9 games. Prior to Sunday’s game, Left Wing Lock noted that the line had accounted for seven goals as a unit, second only to Buffalo’s line of Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville.
The group still found production Sunday, even if not always as an even-strength group. Kunitz and Crosby earned six points between them, both at even strength and on the power play.
As a result, the Penguins have now outscored their last three opponents by a 14-4 margin after allowing 14 goals against in their previous four games.
Most noticeably, Crosby has reduced the errors that marked his first six games of the season. The blue-line turnovers and errant passes have mostly gone away. And as Crosby continues to fire on the net, opposing defenders will be less likely to pressure him into the mistakes as they did during the Pens’ three losses. As respect for his shot increases, his passes lanes will grow wider. Such was the case Sunday.
Elsewhere, Pittsburgh got strong performances from its most well-paid names. Evgeni Malkin earned two assists and the game’s third star. Kris Letang scored his third goal of the season and had two points on the day. Tomas Vokoun stopped 21 of 24 shots, his .875 save percentage largely dented by an apparent dent in the Washington boards that led to a flukey empty net goal.
Excepting that boards-assisted goal, the Penguins have now surrendered just three goals in their last three contests after allowing nine in the previous three.
The Penguins travel to Long Island Tuesday for their second meeting with the Islanders, who are in the running for the Atlantic Division lead and play the New Jersey Devils Sunday afternoon. New York beat the Penguins by a 4-1 final when the teams met last Tuesday.
Pittsburgh has yet to lose since that game, which dropped them to .500 and out of the playoff picture.