Observations from the Penguins' 4-3 win against the Avalanche:
What if we told you the Penguins' shutdown defensive pairing was a throw-in on a blockbuster trade involving Jordan Staal and a complete misfire of a return in a deal which sent Simon Despres out west?
And what if we told you the Penguins saw fit to take those two misfit toys and put them on the ice against a a loaded and talented line of former No. 1 or 2 overall picks?
And what if we told you the Penguins' top defensive pairing to date has been Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy?
Would you believe us?
We're still trying to verify evidence of that claim ourselves but the Penguins used Dumoulin and Lovejoy as their shutdown defensive duo against the Avalanche's star-studded "Nine Line" of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. While they didn't truly "shut down" that line - it generated eight shots in five-on-five play, including one in which center Evgeni Malkin had to sweep a puck off his own goal line - they did limit that line's effectiveness.
Keep in mind, the bar is set very, very low to earn the designation of being the Penguins' best defensive duo. But sure enough, Dumoulin and Lovejoy have claimed it and tonight's effort only solidified that claim.
While the sturdy effort by Dumoulin and Lovejoy was definitely a positive, it can't completely overshadow the fact that the Penguins once again gave up goals late and allowed a seemingly secure win to get anxious late. It happened against the Wild Tuesday and it happened again tonight. Regardless, a win is a win and the Penguins have two in a row.
-After each team exchanged a few fruitless power-play chances in the first period, the Avalanche had a late chance with the man advantage after right winger Pascal Dupuis was given a phantom interference minor against Duchene with 41 seconds left in the period. Defenseman Tyson Barrie settled a puck at the right point and moved it to former Penguins right winger Jarome Iginla at the left point. Iginla unleashed a cannon of a one-timer. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made the initial save with his left skate but allowed a rebound. Landeskog reacted to it quicker than defensemen Ian Cole and Adam Clendening and was able to plunk it by the blocker of Fleury for a 1-0 lead with 29 seconds left in the period.
-In the second period, the teams exchanged minor penalties. After a bogus high stick minor to Avalanche defenseman Francois Beauchemin against center Matt Cullen in the neutral zone, the Penguins got a four-on-four face off in the Avalanche's left circle. Head coach Mike Johnston sent out right winger Beau Bennett and left winger David Perron, Bennett, hardly a faceoff specialist, beat former Penguins left winger Blake Comeau on a draw and got a puck back to Cole above the left circle. Cole stepped up and hammered a knuckler of a one-timer. Perron drove to the cage against defenseman Nick Holden. The puck hit off his backside and bounced through goaltender Reto Berra's five hole to tie the game, 1-1, at 5:35 of the second.
-Not long after that, play moved to a five-on-four power play and the Penguins went to work. From the left half wall, right winger Phil Kessel dealt a pass to Malkin at the right point. Malkin tapped it to defenseman Kris Letang above the left circle. As Letang slid to the center point, Malkin darted to the right half wall. Taking a pass back from Letang, Malkin blistered a one-timer by Berra's left shoulder on the near side to make it a 2-1 game at the 7:04 mark.
-The Penguins didn't stop there. They used their forcheck to score again. Cledening dumped a puck from the left point in behind the Colorado net. Berra left his crease to play it but was oblivious to left winger Chris Kunitz's forehceck from the right wing. Kunitz forced the puck to center Nick Bonino who was position to the left of the cage. Bonino hurried a shot as Berra scrambled to get back into position. Berra got a piece of the shot with his stick. The puck then glanced off the near post and as Berra tried to smother it, Kunitz jabbed at it with a backhand and into the net at the 7:43 mark. It capped off a three-goal outburst in a span of 2:08.
-In the third period, captain/center Sidney Crosby drew two early penalties but the Penguins were unable to capitalize with any insurance goals. That led to the Avalanche getting its second goal at the 8:49 mark. Under pressure from MacKinnon, Cole turned a puck over behind his net to Iglina. From the right of the cage, Iginla moved the puck to Barrie at the right point. Barrie settled it and fired a wrister which beat Fleury's left skate on the far side. Iginla had a screen on the play which may have led to the goal.
-Just over three minutes later, at the 11:56 mark, Crosby scored a vintage goal. Cole led a rush up ice from behind his own net and dealt a pass to Crosby in the neutral zone. Crosby bobbled the puck a bit. Barrie chopped at the rebound and ended up dealing it right to Dupuis. Dupuis settled the puck and dealt it to Crosby who darted between Barrie and defenseman Nick Holden then tucked a silky backhander through Berra's five hole to make it a 4-2 game.
-The Avalanche made a late push to tie the game and came close. After failing to convert a late power play, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy pulled Berra fairly early for an extra attacker (a signature move of Roy's). It paid off. Barrie moved a puck from the right point to the slot for Iginla. Iginla whacked a one-timer which Clendening blocked. Landeskog settled the puck to the left of the crease and moved it to Duchene who plunked in an easy forehand shot from the left of the crease by Fleury's left skate with 1:23 left in regulation.
-The Avalanche pumped a few more shots late, including a last second wrister by Iginla from the slot which Fleury gloved but couldn't get a fourth goal.
-As mentioned earlier, Lovejoy and Dumoulin were fantastic. They saw a ton of assignments against the Avalanche's top line and really limited that group's effectiveness.
-That allowed the Penguins to use the reunited duo of Letang and defenseman Rob Scuderi as a second pairing and they seemed okay. They played a fairly conservative clean game. They didn't give up a ton of chances against the Avalanche's lesser lines and seemed fairly comfortable with one another. We're not ready to anoint them the next coming of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, but Letang and Scuderi were adequate.
-Scuderi was sporting a big scrape or some kind of brushburn under his right eye. He won't be using aftershave for a few days.
-He wasn't quite as prolific as his four-point outing against the Wild, but Malkin again looked dominant. He drove play. He helped create chances for his wingers, Perron and Kessel. And he just seemed to put the Avalanche's defenders on their heels. He looks very dangerous right now.
-At one point, Malkin was bullying his way around the Avalanche zone and throwing his body around on defenseman Erik Johnson, who stands a stout 6-foot-4, 232 pounds. Malkin looked like a power forward center along the lines of Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros or Peter Forsberg. It was fantastic to see.
-The third and fourth lines seemed to create some chances with their forehceck. As mentioned above, the forecheck led to Kuntiz's goal and even the fourth line had a few opportunities. Sergei Plotnikov had one shift in the first period which led to chances.
-It was interesting to see Bennett used in the faceoff circle twice tonight. The first led to Perron's goal. He went 2 for 2 tonight. For the season, he is two for three.
-Clendening and Cole were hardly perfect. They were on the ice for each of Colorado's five-on-five goals but they were also on for two of the Penguins' five-on-five scores. They were competent. Perhaps with a little more playing time, they will smooth things out.
-Fleury was good. Perhaps he could have kicked out a better rebound on the Duchene goal but he was more than adequate tonight.
-The Penguins' power play was once again fairly aggressive. It generated eight shots and one important goal.
-At one point in the second period, on a sloppy defensive play in their own zone, right winger Patric Hornqvist flopped down in front of the crease and blocked a Beauchemin shot with his visor. HIS VISOR.
-If you played a game with 20 Patric Hornqvists in your lineup, you'd probably lose but the other team would have to earn that win.
The Avalanche's depth just killed it tonight. It has a very good first line and first defensive combination. But after that, it drops off. When Nick Holden and Zach Redmond are playing significant minutes on defense, that's an issue. The Penguins' superior depth played a role in this win.
-Berra was not sharp. He looked unsure of himself at times. His play on the Kuntiz goal seemed to rattle him a bit. The Avalanche needed him to be sharper.
-Even if they were limited a bit by the Dumoulin-Lovejoy combination a bit, the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Duchene still looked dangerous when it stepped on the ice.
-No one is going to start a fundraiser over this but the Avalanche is probably a much better team when it is healthy, particularly on defense. We realize Brad Stuart is long in the tooth but if he's in the lineup, this team is probably much better on the blue line.
-He's relegated to the second line right now, but Iginla can still bring it. His shot creates all kind of havoc. And even though he's 38, it's evident that he's still in phenomenal shape. Talking to him today after the morning skate and seeing him in person, he still is one of the most impressive physical specimens we've ever encountered in professional hockey.
-Avalanche left winger Cody McLeod ran around trying to create trouble and ended up nearly injuring Clendening with a brain-dead boarding hit in the first period:
He also seemed to have a dangerous high hit on Crosby in the first:
Beyond that, McLeod accomplished little in this game, especially in matters which involved his puck skills.
-This was the second consecutive Penguins game in which officials called a ton of penalties. They also seemed to miss several. We're not sure if the league offices have sent out word to on-ice officials to get penalty totals up, but they definitely are for the Penguins' past two contests.
-Crosby, notoriously superstitious did not wear a helmet, as he normally does, for the pregame warmup skate. He was asked if he'll continue to go without a lid after scoring a goal. He joked:
"We'll see. I don't know what you're talking about. "
-Johnston was asked about Dumoulin-Lovejoy:
"They've had a lot of top matchups the last couple of weeks. What we like about that pair is just both are very solid defensively. They're physical but they don't get tangled up so that they lose position. A guy like Duchene down low, he spins off checks, he's a hard guy to handle. So you've got to be a very good positional defensmean with a real good stick and both those guys are. So that's why we went with that matchup against MacKinnon, Duchene and Landeskog."
-Johnston lauded the Letang-Scuderi pairing:
"Good. I thought [Scuderi] was really poised tonight. I liked the way he played the game. They're playing against top players but [Dumoulin] and Lovejoy had the majority of the load against Landeksog and MacKinnon. But I like [Scuderi] and [Letang] as a pair, just because I think [Letang] even felt there's a good safety valve and that's what [Scuderi] provides."
-Johnston was asked if they need to work on closing games better:
“Well the most important thing is finishing with a win. If teams pull their goaltender and get a power play late, like sometimes those things happen. The big thing is, is I think if you look at our record going back to last year, in third periods when we have a lead, I think we're 32-2 last year and [we've] probably [added] a few more to that now. When we have the lead in the third, we've been one of the best teams in the league. We feel really confident when we have the lead in the third period. That team there, that's a good group they had on the ice at the end and they made a nice play. But I thought in the third period as a whole, we managed the game well."
-Scuderi was asked about finishing games as well:
"There's a couple of simple plays you can make to not put yourself in harm's way. And I think if we do those, we'll be fine. But for the most part, it's good to see good energy, guys finishing the game. We're not happy about giving up the third one there but we finished the game the right way."
-Scuderi, who missed the previous game due to an illness and was still dealing with a little bit of a cough tonight, was asked about his health:
“It's night and day. You always want to show up to work and do your part but I think I let it go a little too far. It took a little out of me but I was glad to come back tonight. Felt pretty good.”
-Roy was not happy about the Beauchemin penalty which led to the Penguins' first and second goals:
"Well I can't be happy about that call because it was the turning point of the game. They had the faceoff in the [offensive] zone and they won the draw and they score. And after that, they score on the power play and made it a 2-1 game. "
-The Avalanche had a 31-30 edge in shots.
-Landeskog led the game with six shots.
-Right winger Hornqvist led the Penguins with four shots.
-Beauchemin led the game with 25:15 of ice time.
-Letang led the Penguins with 23:28 of ice time.
-The Penguins led in faceoffs, 33-28.
-Bonino was 12 for 15 (80 percent).
-Duchene was 9 for 13 (69 percent).
-Johnson led the game with five blocked shots.
-Letang led the Penguins with four blocked shots.
-Perron now has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his past 11 games.
-Dupuis (246 points) moved past right winger Peter Lee (245) for 33rd place on the franchise's career scoring list.
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)