After losing two straight games, the Pittsburgh Penguins (39-16-8) brought their offense back into the light, scoring five times in their 5-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning (29-26-8). And following a few trades by general manager Jim Rutherford, the new guys — one in particular — showed that they can contribute.
Mark Streit, who played against one of his former teams Friday night, scored two points (1G, 1A) in his PPG Paints Arena debut.
However, the biggest star shined on Evgeni Malkin on Friday night. He scored his team’s first two goals, one with a man advantage. Although his two goals carried the Penguins into the second period with the lead, that ended when Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov scored on a power play to put the game at 2-2.
Streit’s sixth goal of the season ended up being the game winner.
Justin Schultz scored his 10th goal on a power play after streaking hard down the middle of the ice and powering the puck past Tampa Bay’s goalie, Peter Budaj. Pittsburgh shot the puck 35 times, and the addition of power play goals wore Budaj and the rest of the team down as the game went on.
Matt Murray had a strong performance in the Penguins’ net, even though the Lightning was able to keep the game close, including in the final moments of the game. An empty netter by Tom Kuhnhackl gave the Penguins five goals on the night, but Tampa Bay had a few chances at the end of the game that could have made things much more tense for players and fans alike.
Murray was able to stand up in net and become more aggressive as Pittsburgh’s offense added to the Penguins’ lead, but, for the most part, their defense was able to corral the puck and keep the Lightning from having too many scoring chances.
Malkin has been incredibly productive in the last few weeks, and he seems to do especially well against Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh is 11-1-0 in its last 12 games against Tampa Bay, and the Penguins’ stars certainly have come to play against a team that’s had success in recent seasons.
Return of the two-headed monster?
The way that Malkin and Sidney Crosby have been playing lately has certainly given rise to the two-headed monster — again. Well, “two-headed” might not be the best phrase because, right now, it’s not just Crosby and Malkin.
With the Penguins getting continual contributions from players like Phil Kessel, Matt Cullen, Patric Hornqvist and Schultz, there’s no question that opposing teams have their hands full. Though the Penguins are fighting injuries on the blue line, Rutherford’s trades have given head coach Mike Sullivan something to work with.
Ron Hainsey, who was recently acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes, had over 25 minutes of ice time and Streit obviously made a great debut for a defensemen. There’s a monster on just about every Pittsburgh line or shift, something that should intimidate teams because there aren’t many teams prepared to handle the Penguins.
What becomes even scarier is what happens when the team is completely healthy — if that ever happens. While injury concerns are always unfortunate, it’s better to suffer them now than later in the playoffs. Should the Penguins get a high seed in the playoffs and get a few of their blue-liners back, there’s a very real possibility that Pittsburgh will make another deep playoff run.
Marc-Andre Fleury is still a Penguin, although that may not be the case a year from now. However, the smartest decision Rutherford made was not unloading him. Yes, the salary dump and addition of players would have been smart, too, having two Stanley Cup-winning goalies on your roster is a rarity.
At the end of the day, sports are a business. Sure, it would have made sense in either scenario, but Rutherford’s decision to instead focus on defensive support will have a bigger impact now until the playoffs.
Although it may not be the most ideal situation for Fleury, being on the roster for the rest of the season will only help Pittsburgh succeed in its goal of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.