Penguins check off list in win over Panthers
PITTSBURGH – After a sloppy loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a lengthy to-do list for Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
They needed to get more offensive zone time, re-establish some sense of disciplined play and generally step up their game on home ice.
They systematically checked off those items, beating Florida 3-1 before 18,655 at the Consol Energy Center.
The only negative note was an injury sustained by Evgeni Malkin at 4:51 of the third period, which sidelined him for the rest of the game.
Malkin was shoved by defenseman Erik Gudbranson, lost his balance and crashed back-first into the end boards. After his back made the first impact, Malkin’s head snapped back and struck the boards.
Malkin stayed on the ice briefly, then got to his feet and skated to the bench. He was taken to the training room, but coach Dan Bylsma offered little information on his status.
“He’s getting further evaluated this evening,” Bylsma said. “We’ll know more tomorrow, but he left (the ice) on his own accord.”
The Penguins’ next game is Sunday night against Tampa Bay.
On a night when it looked like goals would be tough to come by against 6-foot-6 goalie Jacob Markstrom, the Penguins got scoring from secondary players like Matt Niskanen and Dustin Jeffrey.
“I think everyone responded pretty well, and we’re happy with the result,” Pens captain Sidney Crosby said. “We played a good game and deserved the two points.”
Unlike the Philadelphia game that saw the Penguins take needless penalties, they gave Florida only two power play chances. The Penguins held a 40-23 edge in shots.
Florida scored the first goal at 8:25 of the second period. Defenseman Mike Weaver, who had gone 131 games without a goal, took a shot from the blue line that hit Penguins defenseman Paul Martin and deflected past Marc-Andre Fleury.
But the Penguins answered at 10:41 with a power play goal. James Neal took a shot that hugged the goal line, and Chris Kunitz crashed the net to poke the puck through Markstrom’s pads.
“It looked like (Markstrom) might put up a zero tonight with how strong he was,” Bylsma said. “I’m not sure we score tonight if we don’t get a goal like that.”
Kunitz noted it was his first goal this season from the front of the net and said, “We need more goals like that.”
Niskanen broke the tie at 7:49 of the third, rocketing a shot past Markstrom’s glove from 55 feet. The Penguins maintained possession of the puck as a power play ended.
It is the first time Niskanen has scored in goals in consecutive NHL games.
“I’m just trying to create offense,” Niskanen said. “I shoot it as hard as I can, and sometimes they go in.”
Jeffrey scored his first at 15:15. He went to the net, and was in perfect position to put in a pass from Matt Cooke, who spun around to make the play.
“I didn’t have to do too much,” Jeffrey said. “It was right on my stick.”
The challenge for Jeffrey has been to keep himself ready. He had been a healthy scratch for four straight games and nine of 10.
“It’s tough to get back to game speed,” Jeffrey said. “All you can do is work hard in practice, and work hard after practice, riding the bike.”
Bylsma used rookie winger Beau Bennett for some shifts with Malkin and Neal, and made them his starting forward line. Bennett wound up playing 14:59 with one shot on goal and one hit.
“(Bennett) was winning battles, playing hard in the defensive zone, and I saw the one nice rush play he had,” Bylsma said. “He can make plays, he has soft hands, but what he’s shown in the past three months is he can play in hard areas and win those puck battles. In that regard, that was his best game in doing that.”
The Penguins have power play goals in 10 straight games. … Pittsburgh has won eight consecutive home games against Florida. … Crosby was blanked for the third time in the last seven games. … Jeffrey replaced Joe Vitale in the lineup. … Sunday’s game wraps up the three-game homestand and starts at 7:35.