With the Washington Capitals losing last night in Edmonton, the Pittsburgh Penguins are officially the NHL’s hottest team. The Pens have won five straight and boast an 8-2-2 record heading into Saturday’s game in Toronto. What’s more, they’ve done it all without Sidney Crosby and most of it without Evgeni Malkin. Which begs the question…how?
Here are five reasons:
1. Special teams. We mentioned this in yesterday’s stats post, but it’s worth mentioning again. The Pens have surrendered just one power-play goal in the 37 times they’ve put themselves shorthanded. And if that doesn’t impress you, they’ve also scored three times on the PK, meaning they’re plus-two when they’ve got fewer players on the ice than the other team. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s power play is clicking at a respectable 18.9 percent. The man advantage has been a problem area for the Pens in the past. Clearly Crosby was to blame.
2. James Neal. Nine goals in 12 games. And with just one assist, the overwhelming favorite to win the Cy Young. Neal scored just twice in 27 games for Pittsburgh (regular season and playoffs combined) after being traded from Dallas last February. If the 24-year-old keeps it up, the only problem the Pens will have is negotiating the pending RFA’s contract.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury. A 1.86 goals-against average with a .934 save percentage. Fleury is obviously playing very well, but those numbers can also be attributed to Pittsburgh’s commitment to team defense. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov or Roberto Luongo how much of a goalie’s stats can be attributed to the guys in front them.
4. Jordan Staal. Six goals and three assists in 12 games. Staal is best known as one of the premier checking centers in the NHL, but he’s stepped up on offense this season. “I don’t know if my game’s evolving or not, but I’m definitely feeling good about where I am and what I’m doing out there. I’m happy the puck’s going in for me right now,” he told the Post-Gazette this week. Unless I’m missing someone, Staal has to be the early front-runner for the Selke.
5. Kris Letang. One goal and eight assists in 10 games. Remember when the Pens didn’t sign Sergei Gonchar and everyone wondered if Letang could grow into the top d-man role? Yeah, he’s grown into the top d-man role. The 24-year-old is playing a ton, averaging 26:05 per game. He took a big step last season in Pittsburgh’s first season without Gonchar, and it appears he hasn’t finished getting better.
The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.
The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.
With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.
Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.
Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.
Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.
The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.
That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.
Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.
This definitely wasn’t the way the St. Louis Blues drew it up.
The Blues entered the third period of Game 2 with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to shut the game down on the road.
St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes before Dallas decided to pull Kari Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi. The move didn’t provide any results in the middle frame, but something certainly sparked the Stars in the third period.
Mattias Janmark cut the deficit to 3-2 with this beauty (notice how he split Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo).
With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Stars captain Jamie Benn tied it up (top).
It’s safe to say this wasn’t a memorable third period for the Blues.
A bit of a scary moment in the third period of Game 2 between the Stars and Blues.
Less than five minutes into the third period, Jason Spezza took a shot that caught Blues goalie Brian Elliott square in the mask. Play was halted as Elliott remained down. It appears as though the shot to the mask also made Elliott lose one of his contacts.
Thankfully, Elliott wasn’t seriously injured on the play. After being examined by the team doctor, he was allowed to stay into the game. He did need a new mask though (he got his original one back a few minutes later).
You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.
The Blues currently lead 3-2 late in the third period.
Here’s some Twitter reaction:
Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.
Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.
The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.
So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.