The Penguins’ 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday was worth two points in the standings. It pushed them back into a first-place tie with the Islanders, who suffered a 6-4 loss to the Blues yesterday.
Felt like much more, though.
The Penguins lost back-to-back games in October and learned something about finishing games after cratering at Joe Louis Arena in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings.
It happened again in November, the Long Island debacle of a 5-4 shootout loss followed by an ugly 4-1 defeat at Nassau Coliseum.
A defeat Saturday would’ve been the third set of back-to-back losses – the first, though, not on back-to-back days – and it would have come amidst a boatload of injuries and with a trip to Madison Square Garden looming.
The Penguins might not feel invincible, but a loss Saturday coupled with a possible loss of forward Patric Hornqvist to a concussion wouldn’t have been good.
No information was available on that, by the way. Maybe today, though I doubt it. More likely is tomorrow after the morning skate.
The Penguins have five regulars out for various reasons: Hornqvist, defenseman Kris Letang (groin, skated yesterday; expected back within a week), forward Beau Bennett (lower body, possible return tomorrow), Chris Kunitz (fractured bone in foot, out at least another 10 days, probably closer to three weeks).
“When guys are out of the lineup, you’ve got to be desperate out there,” captain Sidney Crosby, who didn’t score for the 16th time in 18 games but did make a slick pass to Christian Ehrhoff for the winner.
Few players in the Penguins dressing room were happy with a 3-0 loss to Vancouver Thursday. This included Evgeni Malkin, who scored twice against Ottawa and currently has the fourth-most markers in the league at 14.
“It was tough,” Malkin said. “The last game we didn’t play good, I didn’t play good. This game was much better.”
“We didn’t feel the Vancouver game was a good game for us,” coach Mike Johnston added. “I thought (Saturday) was better.”
I wrote for Saturday’s paper that 10 Penguins averaged 50 seconds or more per shift against the Canucks. Only three did it against the Senators.
Further, the Penguins fired 21 pucks at Vancouver goaltender Eddie Lack on Thursday, a season-low total. They had 33 shots on goal Saturday and 58 attempts.
After Mike Zibanejad and David Legwand scored in the second to forge a 2-1 lead, center Brandon Sutter tipped a puck that Malkin also touched, and the Penguins responded with their best stretch of hockey in the third period.
“The third period was our best,” Sutter said. “We were taking it to them at the end.”
Another key bounce back, in my opinion, came from defenseman Olli Maatta, who had a bad turnover against the Canucks but responded with an assist Saturday. He was a plus-1 in a team-high 24:03 of ice time, including 3:52 on the power play and 2:35 shorthanded.
Maatta attempted four shots, put three on goal, didn’t turn the puck over and blocked a shot. The Penguins are 5-0 this season when he records a point.
That’s it from me. About to board my flight to Newark via Cincinnati.
Be GRATEFUL to each other,