Observations from the Penguins' 4-3 overtime win against the Blues:
This game wasn't perfect for the Penguins. They surrendered two leads in the third period and allowed the Blues to put this game in overtime. The Penguins had some breakdowns and errors in their own zone which led to scoring chances for the Blues. And they kept forcing bad passes in the offensive zone.
There's plenty to nitpick about from the Penguins' perspective in this game. But that doesn't mean this wasn't an impressive win. It might have been their best win of the season. The Blues are a very good and very deep team and the Penguins fended them off to earn pretty darn good (as well as entertaining) win.
“That's a tough team, St. Louis," head coach Mike Johnston said. "When you're playing that type of team, they make you play 60 minutes. You can't have a letdown. I thought we made some mistakes but I didn't think we had a letdown in our game.”
-The Blues got the game's first power play at 9:08 of the first period when defenseman Ian Cole locked up with Blues captain/center David Backes in the Penguins' left wing corner and hauled down his former teammate. Cole was given a minor penalty for holding the stick and the Blues wasted little time converting. It took them seven seconds to cash in in fact. Center Nick Bonino actually won the faceoff in the right circle but ended up turning the puck over to Blues center Kevin Shattenkirk at the right point. Shattenkirk then moved a pass to left winger Alex Steen at center point. Steen showed a slapper then chopped a pass to center Paul Stastny to the left of the net. Stastny leaned down and directed the puck by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's blocker on the near side. It s a pretty, precise goal and it gave the Blues a 1-0 lead.
-The Penguins had a handful of chances, including a power-play but couldn't figure out Allen until late in the first period. That's when right winger Pascal Dupuis hounded Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarson into a turnover near the Blues' left wing corner. The puck bounced to the slot where captain/center Sidney Crosby was waiting. He jumped on the puck and ka-boomed a one-timer by the glove hand of goaltender Jake Allen to make it a 1-1 game at 16:19.
-The Blues had a chance to regain a lead at 17:38 of the second. After defenseman Adam Clendening lost a puck in the Penguins left wing corner, right winger Vladimir Tarasenko grabbed the loose puck and tapped it to Steen in the slot. Steen faked a shot then moved a subtle pass to Stastny to the right of the cage. Stastny had Fleury dead to rights but he bobbled the puck a bit. By the time he fired a shot, Fleury was able to get in position and deflected the puck out of play with his left arm.
-That save put the Penguins in position to take a 2-1 lead nearly eight minutes later. After left winger David Perron was hooked up by Stastny while chasing a puck on the Blues' left wall, the Penguins got a power play and cashed in. Crosby won a faceoff in the Blues' left circle and got the puck to right winger Phil Kessel above the circle. Kessel moved the puck to defenseman Kris Letang at center point. Letang then fed it to center Evgeni Malkin on the right half wall. Malkin surveyed the offensive zone for a few minutes before dealing a pass to the slot. Crosby jabbed at the puck with his stick and directed it by Allen's blocker for a goal at the 9:57 mark.
-The Blues didn't waste much time in the third period in tying the game. After a neutral zone turnover by defenseman Rob Scuderi, Blues center Robby Fabbri took a feed from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and moved up the right wing. Scuderi gave him an acre of ice to work with. Fabbri took it and ripped a sizzling wrister by Fleury's left arm on the near side to make it a 2-2 game 1:12 into the period.
-The Penguins fought back and regained another lead. Defneseman Ben Lovejoy ripped a wrister from the left point but had it blocked by Pietrangelo. Perron settled the puck and dealt a calm, composed pass to Lovejoy at the high slot. Lovejoy used Pietrangelo as a screen and ripped a wrister by Allen's left leg to give the Penguins a 3-2 advantage at the 6:49 mark.
-But yet again the Blues tied the game. After Lovejoy gave Malkin an iffy pass out of the Penguins' left corner, Malkin turned the puck over under pressure from Steen in the left circle. The puck bounced past defenseman Brian Dumoulin to the left circle where Pietrangelo picked it up and fired a wrister though Fleury's left arm and his rib cage. It was a sloppy goal for the Penguins to allow and it tied the game, 3-3 with 5:41 left in regulation.
The game moved to overtime but it didn't take long to find a goal. Lovejoy controlled a puck in front of the Blues bench and was hounded by Shattenkirk and Steen. He snapped a backhanded pass to Kessel rushing up from the defensive zone into the neutral zone. Kessel gained the offensive zone with speed against Statsny, allowed him to enage then tapped a simple forehand pass to Malkin in the slot. With Shattenkirk giving a futile chase, Malkin approached the crease, went forehand, got Allen to commit then tucked a backhander by Allen's glove hand to get the win 1:03 into the extra period.
-Crosby looked like he was playing with a purpose. That was evident with his first goal which looked like he was trying to shoot through the net. He looked dangerous. He looked ticked off. Perhaps he was annoyed - actually he definitely was annoyed - by an assertion by former Penguins left winger Matthew Barnanby on a radio show that he had a falling out with owner Mario Lemieux. Crosby didn't say much about the "report" - if you can even call it that - but he certainly played like he wanted to shut someone up.
-The Penguins' power play continues to produce. It came through with a go-ahead goal in the second period and has scored goals in four consecutive games. In fact, it's 5 for 20 (25 percent) over the past four games. At times, the Penguins looked inept on the power play tonight, but it's hard to argue with the goal it did produce.
-Malkin's game may not have been as notable as Crosby, but he played pretty inspired tonight. He looked like he was doing everything he could to end this game in regulation. We can't really recall the last time both he and Crosby looked this dangerous in the same game.
-The fourth line of Sergei Plotnikov, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr had a heck of a game. They were very strong down low on the Blues' end boards and just controlled the puck quite a bit down there. They were able to generate a lot of chances in tight. Things like wraparounds or jam-in plays. They played so well, Johnston was willing to put them out there for meaningful shifts late in the third period with the game tied.
-Plotnikov in particular stood out. He may have had his best game of the season. You probably could have powered a small town with all the energy he expended on the boards tonight. He had a handful of scoring chances and played so well, he was even rewarded with a shift with Crosby and right winger Patric Hornqvist after Dupuis needed a breather following a penalty killing shift.
-Speaking of Dupuis, after today's morning skate, Johnston lauded Dupuis' ability to forecheck and turn pucks over after being questioned about Dupuis' lack of production as of late. Then Dupuis backs up his coach's words by forechecking and forcing a turnover which led to Crosby's first goal.
-The Lovejoy-Dumoulin defensive pairing continued to look strong. They were regularly matched up against the Blues' top line of Stastny, Steen and Tarasenko and kept them in check for the most part. The only five-on-five goal that line generated came off a Malkin turnover which admittedly may have been Lovejoy's fault. Regardless, the confidence Johnston has in that duo right now is quite evident.
-Fleury could have prevented the Fabbri or Pietrangelo goals but he stole probably three or four goals with some great individual plays. His stake in this win should not be overlooked.
-For a player who has been a highlight reel all season, Tarasenko had a rather ordinary game. He just didn't seem to find the puck that much tonight. From an entertainment standpoint, we were kind of disappointed in him.
-Steen and Stastny have quite a bit of chemistry and it was evident by how they passed the puck. Lot of one-touch passes which take as much skill as timing.
-The size the Blues have was quite evident. They challenged the Penguins on just about every shift physically and seemed to finish every hit. We wouldn't be surprised if the Penguins needed a few more ice bags tonight.
-Allen was fine. He was completely undressed by Malkin but the three regulation goals he allowed were not soft.
-Crosby addressed the claims by Barnaby:
"I honestly don't even know what to say to that. If people are going to make stuff up, it's totally out of my control. I feel stupid even commenting on it to be honest with you. It's ridiculous. I don't know if its a coincidence when you're struggling and the points aren't coming and something like that comes up. In my experience, that's usually the case. "
-Johnston talked about Crosby's play:
"When Sid's shooting the puck like that and with the determination he plays with offensively, he's really hard to handle. … Like any other goal-scorer, once they start to feel it, you can start to see their confidence pick up."
-Johnston on the fourth line:
"They were really good all night. I didn't care who they played against. If they played against [Statsny's line] if they had to, they played good minutes against that line. They also made their defense pay a price down low to play against them."
-Johnston was complimentary of Plotnikov:
"Plotnikov is a player I'm starting to see really round into form. We all knew it was going to take a while for a young guy from Russia coming over [and] is trying to learn the language. He's starting to take off for us and that's really key to give us that depth up front."
-Johnston lauded Dupuis' play setting up Crosby's first goal:
"He's really quick on loose pucks. He's quick on defensemen. He doesn't give defensemen time. And the result of that was the loose puck which came out to Sid and we get the first goal and get some momentum off of that. But that's [Dupuis'] game, that skating game, and he's a key momentum guy on that line."
-Crosby spoke about that goal:
"He put it on a tee for me there. It's nice to put that one in. I don't know what would have gone through my head if that didn't go in. So it's nice to put it in."
-Lovejoy joked about his goal:
"Very rarely do I hit where I'm aiming and that was exactly where I was trying to put it. I hammered the first one. The guy made a nice effort to block the shot. Perron was able to get it right back to me quickly. There was definitely a screen. There was no way [Allen] saw it but that was, believe it or not, where I was aiming."
-Lovejoy described his play setting up Kessel's entry into the offensive zone prior to Malkin's goal:
"I knew that I had to win that puck. That was the most important thing. I originally wanted to bring it back to Phil if Phil was playing playing deep. A couple of bobbles and was able to know they only had three guys on the ice. I knew Phil was there. I was able to get it to him. Those two guys two-on-one are pretty lethal."
-Lovejoy talked about playing with Dumoulin:
"That guy's awesome. He's been borderline perfect all year. He makes very few mistakes. He's incredibly mentally tough for a defenseman. The thing I'm more impressed with his commitment to defense. He hasn't cheated once. Often times, high-profile young defensemen come into the league and judge their games on how many points they're scoring. He's not that way at all. He wants to go out tonight and shut down Tarasenko. And he did a great job tonight. That guy is incredibly dangerous coming down the wing and I thought Dumoulin handled him very well all night. "
-The Penguins led in shots, 34-32.
-Crosby led the game with nine.
-Stastny led the Blues with five.
-Letang led the game with 26:19 of ice time.
-Pietrangelo led the Blues with 24:25 of ice time.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 32-24 (57 percent).
-Crosby was 13 for 25 (52 percent).
-Stastny was 10 for 23 (43 percent).
-Letang led the game with four blocked shots.
-Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, Gunnarsson, Pietrangelo and Tarasenko each led the Blues with two blocked shots.
-The Penguins are 4-0 in overtime this season.
-Malkin leads the NHL with five game-winning goals.
-Prior to the game, the Blues were the only opposing NHL team Crosby had never scored a goal against.
-Crosby (866 points) moved past another former No. 1 overall pick, center Eric Lindros (865) for 119th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.
(Photo: Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)