Observations from the Penguins' 5-4 win against the Canucks:
Normally, goaltending isn't what you think of immediately - at least in good terms - in nine-goal games. But today, that struck us as the difference.
The Penguins were down 2-1 throughout the second period and into the third period and Marc-Andre Fleury came up with some HUGE saves to keep the game in reach. Sure, the Canucks eventually took a 3-1 lead mid-way through the third period but those saves - a stop of Canucks right winger Jannik Hansen's breakaway attempt at the end of the second and a denial of center Bo Horvat on a short-handed two-on-one chance - early in the third - were so critical to the Penguins today.
As left winger Tom Kuhnhackl said of the Horvat save, "I think that might have saved us the game."
Overall, Fleury could have been better, much better. And statistically, he had a poor save percentage of .875 today. But when you look at the impact those saves had, they meant so much today.
-It took the Canucks 27 seconds to open the scoring. After defenseman Alexander Edler backhand chipped a puck out of his own left wing corner, Hansen did the rest. Hansen simply raced up the right wing by sluggish defenseman Olli Maatta and ripped a wrister from the right circle by Fleury's blocker on the far side. It was a strange play in how simple it was. Hansen just zipped up the ice and scored.
-A short-handed goal gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead with 3:24 left in the first period. Off an offensive zone turnover by center Evgeni Malkin, Hansen led a two-on-one rush up the right wing with right winger Derek Dorsett against defenseman Kris Letang. Hansen fed a pass by a sliding Letang to the slot. Dorsett whiffed on a one-timer which hit off the cross bar. As Fleury slid out of the crease in reaction to Dorsett's shot, the rebound bounced to the right of the crease where Hansen swept it in for an easy goal.
-The Penguins finally got on the scoreboard at 3:54 of the second period. With a two-on-one power play to work with, they struck. Letang controlled the puck in the high slot and slid a pass to Malkin high in the right circle. Malkin boomed a one-timer by a leaping center Sidney Crosby and behind Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller's blocker on the near side. Crosby's leap may have been the most impressive part of the sequence.
Fleury kept it a one-goal game late with his first big save. Hansen got behind Maatta once again but his breakaway was snuffed out by Fleury with 12 seconds left in the period.
-Then, 3:09 into the third, Fleury came up big again. Hansen made another short-handed rush up the right wing creating a two-on-none with Horvat. Hansen fed Horvat in the slot but his tap-in attempt was denied by Fleury's left leg.
-Exactly six minutes into the third, Vancouver made it a 3-1 lead. Horvat gained the offensive zone with speed, challenged Letang one on one and ripped a wrister from the high slot by Fleury's glove hand.
-The Penguins got back within a goal with a little bit of luck 1:16 later. After left winger Carl Hagelin gained the offensive zone on the right wing he left a drop pass. Malkin picked up the puck, cut across the slot and went wide to the left of the cage. With Miller drawn well out of his crease, Malkin pushed the puck to the front of the crease from behind the goal line. Canucks right winger Linden Vey accidentally tapped it into his own cage to make it a 3-2 game.
-Malkin completed his hat trick and tied the game at the 10:22 mark of the third period. After defenseman Trevor Daley helped force a neutral zone turnover, he chopped it up ice on the left wing wall near the Canucks bench. As the Canucks appeared to get jumbled up a bit on a line change, right winger Phil Kessel settled the puck at the Canucks' left point and fed it to Malkin. From the left circle, Malkin ripped a wrister past Miller's glove on the far side.
The Penguins took their first lead of the day at 13:00 of the third. Taking a feed from left winger Tom Kunhackl, right winger Bryan Rust shielded the puck from Horvat, turned and fired a prayer of a wrister from above the left circle at the cage. The puck sailed through screening center Eric Fehr's “five hole” through Miller's five hole. Miller looked like he never saw the puck.
They would add an insurance empty-net goal with 1:23 left in regulation. Off a turnover, Letang chopped a puck up the right wing. Hagelin chased it down, spun off a check from Canucks defenseman Matt Bartkowski and fed a pass to Crosby in the left circle. Crosby whipped it into the open cage for one of us:
That goal would end up proving to be the game winner as Hansen finished his hat trick with 17.6 seconds let in play. Left winger Mark Zalewski chopped a desperation shot from the left point at the cage. Hansen was positioned to the right of the cage and deflected it by Fleury's left leg on the near side.
-Obviously, the biggest story in this game was Malkin. Hat tricks tend to be big but this was pretty key with regards to them coming back in this game. Oddly enough, he had a pretty ordinary game until the third period. He even had a turnover which led to a short-handed goal. He certainly got everything together in the third however.
-The fact that the Penguins were down 2-0 for the second consecutive game was concerning. They just didn't look ready to start the game. It's good to see they have the firepower and resolve to comeback, but it's not a good pattern.
-With left winger Chris Kunitz sidelined due to a stinger, the Penguins had a bit of a rotation on the left wing spot of the first line. Left winger Conor Sheary manned it in the first period. Then right winger Beau Bennett in the second. And finally center Matt Cullen in the third. It's fair to say none of them distinguished themselves. As a result, the top line with Crosby and right winger Patric Hornqvist was unremarkable.
-Bennett played his first game since suffering a shoulder injury Dec. 14. The Penguins seemed like they tried to ease him back into the lineup, even with some shifts on the first line. He was limited to 8:08 of ice time on 13 shifts and one hit. That hit - a check with his previously injured right shoulder - into Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa in the second period sent him to the dressing room briefly. After a short absence, he returned to the game.
-Derrick Pouliot was inserted into the lineup in place of defenseman Ian Cole. Additionally, the "shutdown" defensive pairing of Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy was broken up. That resulted in Dumouin playing with Daley and Pouliot with Lovejoy.
-The Dumoulin-Daley duo seemed to be the most stable of the three defensive pairings. It seemed to be the pairing which gave up the fewest chances at least.
-Pouliot was shaky at first. He was badly undressed by Horvat on one offensive chance in the first period. But he settled down as the game wore on. He had 11:58 of ice time on 17 shifts including 1:22 on the power play and recorded one shot.
-Oddly enough, the Penguins' power play had a letdown. It went 1 for 5 and that one goal was scored with a two-man advantage. The Penguins really didn't look like a sustained threat with their power play.
-After getting scorched by the Flyers Thursday, the Penguins' penalty kill was much better, albeit with only one Vancouver power play chance to face.
-Hagelin continues to look better and better presumably due to an increased comfort level of playing with Malkin and Kessel.
The third line continued to do things and it even came through with an important goal. Rust-Fehr-Kuhnhackl does a lot of things off the cycle and that's how it produced its goal today.
-Maatta had a rough game. He had a good view of the back of Hansen's jersey most of the game. Hansen has some pretty sinister speed but Maatta looked like he was skating in mud today.
-To make room for Bennett on the active roster, defenseman David Warsofsky (concussion) was placed on injured reserve.
We're not sure how this can be summed up as anything other than a collapse for the Canucks. We realize they were at the end of a long road trip and some of their better players are sidelined but they should have won this game. They had plenty of chances to really put this thing away early and never did. This was a bad loss for them.
-As mentioned earlier, Hansen can fly. A race between him and Hagelin would be interesting.
-For a guy who has shown he can play without his brother, injured center Henrik Sedin, left winger Daniel Sedin was awfully quiet today.
-Miller needed to be better. Even on Malkin's second goal which his teammate Vey poked in, Miller was so far out of position. He just was sloppy today.
-The NHL did the Canucks no favors with the start time of this game. It was a 9:30 a.m. start on the Pacific coast.
-We wonder how this game may have been different with Henrik Sedin or former Penguins center Brandon Sutter in the lineup.
-Fleury wants the bad starts to stop:
"We've got to figure it out. We can't give us a two-goal deficit in the first period to make us go. It's great that we got two points tonight but we've got to find ways to have a lead. Play the right way right off the bat."
The first period stunk for Sullivan:
"I didn't like anything about the first period. I just didn't think we played the right way. We didn't stop and start. We didn't finish checks. We didn't stay on the right side of the puck battles. We didn't win the puck battles. Our faceoff percentage was poor. I didn't like anything about the first period. That's something we have to solve as a group. Obviously, we're pleased with the response. I said to the guys after the game, this isn't how we would draw it up. But I commend them for elevating their game and finding a way to get two points. But I think we have to see it for what it is and be honest with ourselves and say we can't play that way and expect to get consistent results. We've got to heed those lessons and learn from that and make sure we're not chasing games."
-Malkin doesn't like the pattern of bad starts:
"We talked before [the] game about slow starts, [like the] last game. But it's the same start tonight. I don't know what was going on but I think we were ready before [the] game. After [the] first, it was 2-0 again. It's not good for us. We need to change a little bit and play better [in the] first period. It's very important because if we want to play in the playoffs, it's not right because playoffs [are a] little bit different game. We can't score five goals every game. We need to play 60 minutes."
-Rust on the bad starts:
"That's definitely something we have to fix. That's something that we've got to show a little bit more character bit earlier in the games and kind of get our legs going a little bit earlier. Because I mean when we're going, we're capable of some pretty good things. That's something that we've got to get in the back of our heads and we've got to start a little bit better."
-Kuhnhackl on the bad starts:
"That's absolutely not what we wanted to do the last two games. We didn't have a good start. We got what we deserved being down two goals in both games. We've got to find a way to come out and have a better start."
Sullivan lauded Fleury:
"I thought overall the quality of the chances we gave up were high and Marc made some big saves for us to keep it close, to give us a chance to get back into it. He made some big saves."
“He's always good. We gave Vancouver lots of chances tonight. It's a couple of mistakes in the [defensive] zone. Vancouver [played] good. It's fast [forwards]. A couple two-on-ones against our [defense]. Of course, Marc-Andre play well every game. He's very important for us."
-Hagelin talked about Malkin's save on Horvat in the third period:
"The thing for a goalie there when you're down 3-1, you know the shots you're going to face are probably hard shots. He obviously made some key saves, especially that backdoor tap-in. He got his blocker on it and kept us in the game."
-Malkin joked about his second goal:
"It's lucky. Lucky day today for me. But surprise. [Vey] scored. [That's a] help to me. Lucky day."
-Sullivan gave praise to Malkin's play:
"It was huge. I thought he had a terrific third period. That's obvious. He took some initiative. I thought his actions spoke. He brought his game to another level. I thought his intensity level was high. He was a difference maker for us tonight, that' s for sure."
-Fleury joked about Malkin scoring highlight reel goals:
"As long as he doesn't do it in practice, I'm good."
-Rust was asked if teammates said "wow" for his goal the way they do for Malkin's goals:
No, they're like, 'Uh... nice pass.' Because that's pretty much what I did. I was throwing at the front of the net to [Fehr] and the puck just went in.
Sullivan gave a pseudo update on Kunitz:
"Our intention was to play him and he didn't have a comfort level during warmup. So we decided to hold him out. When he came to the rink, he felt well enough that he thought he could play. He's a tough kid and I think sometimes his intentions, his good intentions to help the team, might have clouded his judgment a little bit. But he wasn't in a position where he could help the team win so we decided to hold him out."
Sullivan summed up Bennett's play:
"We started him on the fourth line to try to get him an opportunity to get a few shifts under his belt to see how he felt, see how he was doing. The second period, we moved him up with Sid in [Kunitz's] spot. He hasn't played in a while so the timing is not quite there. We tried to put him in a position where we could ease him into the game so to speak. We tried him with Sid just by default. With [Kunitz] being out, it leaves a hole there for us. We tried a few guys in that spot. We ultimately decided to go with [Cullen] there for the third period. Beau's first game back and having not played for six weeks is a tough challenge for him."
-Pouliot admitted having some nerves:
"It kind of felt like my first game again to be honest. Was a little bit nervous and kind of timid in the first but I settled in."
-Pouliot spending the first half of the season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton:
"I think it's been very helpful. I've learned how to defend better, play more consistnetly, get my confidence back up with the puck and defend against some of the best players in that league. It's definitely helped for sure."
Sullivan spoke about Pouliot's return:
"I thought he settled in. The NHL pace is much different than the [AHL] pace. So for any player that comes up, that's an adjustment. I thought as the game went on, I thought he adjusted well. He made some pretty good outlet passes. This is a great experience for Derrick I think. We think very highly of him. That's one of the reasons he spent the time he spent in Wilkes-Barre. That expereince there was all about Derrick and opportunity for him to develop his game. He spent a fair amount of time there this year. We have him here with us right now. This is a great expereince for him as well. We know he's going to continue to grow and get better. It's our job and our responsibilty to try to put him in those circumstance to allow that to take place."
What did Sullivan say to his players after the first period?
"It was just very matter of fact. I told them it's unacceptable. We're better than this. We can't accept this from each other. We've got to find a way amongst our group to hold each other accountable and solve it. I think that's going to be our challenge moving forward. Ultimately, it's a players' game and it's their team and they've got to take ownership and that's what I'm trying to encourage them to do. Obviously, some of our leaders stepped up today and brought their games to another level and that helped us get the points. But certainly I think we as a group expect more from one another in order to get the results that we're going to try to get here for the second half of the season."
-Rust talked about what Sullivan said:
"Yeah, coach came in the locker room. He wasn't screaming and yelling but we knew we had to be better. Guys in the locker room. Coach knew that we knew it. That's something that we put on ourselves as guys on this team."
Sullivan talked about breaking up Dumoulin and Lovejoy:
"We put Derrick in the lineup. We made a lineup decision with our defensemen and that was part of it. But part of it is too is that I think we've used the defensemen a little bit differently, especially with Kris Letang and the minutes that he plays. We just felt we wanted to try those pairs. We thought it might give us a better chance to win."
-Malkin is keen on having Hagelin on his line:
"Everyone sees how he plays. An amazing player. Lots of speed. He can score but he's a help to me, a help to Phil. I think when we start playing with him, we started playing better for sure."
-Hagelin is also a member of the mutual appreciation society:
“Oh it's just exciting. You have a first-row seat to see one of the best players in the league do what he can do best. He was making a lot of great plays. He's not a selfish player but he still scores three goals. It's pretty, pretty amazing.”
-Hagelin joked about setting up Crosby's empty net goal:
“He passed it to me and I wanted to give it back to him. Looking back now at the replay though, I should have shot it. But it worked, it worked. He scored. That's all that matters.”
-Rust was asked if the team was as confident with comeback wins in the past:
"In the past, guys kind of got on each other. We were a little bit down. Coach Sullivan came in here and he talked [to] us that we've got to be a lot better at that. We can't get down on each other. We've got to stick together as a team. We've got to move forward and that's something that helps us make those comebacks."
-Hagelin was asked if he's happy he doesn't have to go to Washington for a game Sunday due to the inclement weather:
"Both yes and no. After a win, you just want to keep going. At the same time, you don't want be stuck in a snowstorm either. We'll make the most of this two-day break, the two days between games and get ready for the next game."
Hansen was asked what the mood of his team was after the game:
"Pfffff... Frustrating I think is the best way to put it. We're up 3-1, 10 minutes left in the third. You should at least get one point. But for sure, you've got to win the game. It's that simple. The points are that important."
-Miller talked about his team giving up the lead:
"I thought we played really well. Probably the bulk of the chances were our guys or Jannik. We had it in control there then they get that bounce. We had to battle from there. It's a little frustrating to have a two-goal lead and watch it disappear."
-Miller critiqued how he defended Malkin's third goal:
"He made a smart shot. I probably should have challenged him a little bit more."
-Canucks coach Willie Desjardins opened his media scrum by addressing Friday's mass shooting in La Loche, Saskatchewan:
"I just want to talk about the incident in La Loche, Saskatchewan. It's my home province. My heart goes out to the people there, the victims. It's a sad thing at this time. Just thinking about them."
-The Canucks had a 32-30 lead in shots on net.
-Hansen led the game with seven shots.
-Kessel led the Penguins with six shots.
-Edler led the game with 25:59 of ice time.
-Letang led the Penguins with 25:43 of ice time.
-The Canucks had a 27-21 lead in faceoffs (56 percent).
-Horvat was 13 for 21 (52 percent).
-Crosby was 11 for 24 (46 percent).
-Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev and right winger Emerson Etem each led the game with three blocked shots.
-Pouliot led the Penguins with two blocked shots.
-This was the first time the Penguins and their opponent recorded a hat trick in the same game since center Mario Lemieux and Islanders left winger Derek King each netted three goals in a 7-6 road win for the Penguins, Oct. 15, 1991.
-This was the 11th time overall the Penguins and opponent each had a hat trick in the same game and the second time the Penguins did it with the Canucks. The first instance was a 9-5 home win by the Penguins Oct. 6, 1976. Right winger Rick Kehoe had three goals while Canucks right winger Rick Blight had four goals.
-This was the Penguins' first hat trick of the season. Additionally, they only had one all of last season. Left winger Blake Comeau had three goals in a 4-3 home overtime win against the Maple Leafs, Nov. 27, 2014.
-This was Malkin's 10th career hat trick and his first since an 8-1 home win Feb. 25, 2012.
-This was the Penguins' first hat trick against the Canucks in exactly 29 years. Lemieux netted three goals in a 6-0 road win Jan. 23, 1987.
-The last Canucks hat trick against the Penguins was by former Penguins right winger Markus Naslund in a 4-3 home win for the Canucks, Dec. 9, 2003.
-Fire Craig Patrick
-All these hat trick statistics are courtesy of legendary Penguins historian Bob Grove.
-Hagelin has three points in four games with the Penguins.
-Malkin's first goal was the Penguins' first five-on-three power-play goal of the season.
-Hansen's second goal was the second short-handed goal the Penguins allowed this season. In contrast, they allowed 11 short-handed goals last season, second most in the NHL.
-Letang has 28 points in his past 26 games.
-Crosby has points in six consecutive games.
-Kuhnackl recorded his first career point by assisting on Rust's goal.
-The Penguins had quite a bit of homegrown talent in the lineup today:
-Despite the bad weather, the Penguins had an announced sellout of 18,539. It was their 401st consecutive sellout.
(Photo: Peter Diana / Post-Gazette)