The Pittsburgh Penguins have a history of struggling against teams that are on the edge of the playoff race in the last stretch of the regular season. However, the Penguins that showed up at the Pepsi Center in Denver Saturday night never thought of taking it easy against the Colorado Avalanche, who have 70 points and currently sit at tenth place in the West, in spite of their ranking as the top faceoff team in the league. Backed by a stellar goaltending effort and solid defensive work throughout, the Pens’ play proved why they are 11-0-3 in their last 14 road games against the Western Conference.
Both teams created chances early on, and Avs rookie Gabriel Landeskog was responsible for five of their first seven shots on net, but the Penguins opened the scoring nearly eight minutes in. On a great bit of work by the fourth line, Craig Adams cleared a path through the Colorado defense and sent a backhand pass to Arron Asham, who delivered a slapper to the five hole of Jean-Sebastien Giguere to give the Pens the early lead. Not two minutes later, a nifty tic-tac-toe exchange from Jordan Staal to Deryk Engelland tipped in off the crossbar to put the Pens up 2-0. Steve Sullivan earned a secondary assist, returning from injury to extend his current point streak to seven games. Shots at the end of the first were 14-8 in favor of the Avalanche, but it was the Penguins with the two-goal lead.
The second period started on a Penguins power play carried over from a late Ryan O’Reilly hook on Jordan Staal, but the Avs seemed determined not to let the lead slip further away. James Neal and Evgeni Malkin continued to dominate in the offensive zone. At 5:30, Malkin tapped in a wrister on a sharp-angle rebound from a Neal shot that was nowhere near to being covered by the Colorado defense. Paul Martin earned the secondary assist on the 3-0 lead.
The Avs have the lowest number of power play chances so far this season of any team in the NHL, but they certainly had opportunities to turn that around. Richard Park was sent to the box on a tripping call with just under 7 minutes gone. The Pens’ PK, which had killed 48 of the last 49, went to work again. Brooks Orpik shoveled the puck up-ice to find Park on his way out of the box for a stellar breakaway chance. Park deked in to put a wrister neatly past Giguere for the 4-0 Penguin lead. Shots on the period found the Pens outshooting 12-9.
The third period did not see a decrease in intensity for either team. Both defenses worked to force takeaways and capitalize on chances. The work finally paid off for Gabriel Landeskog, as he was able to set up an open shot on net for Paul Stastny with just over 11 minutes left. Stastny’s shot was blocked by Fleury, but Matt Hunwick picked up the rebound to end the shutout bid, 4-1. Sullivan picked up an empty net goal with 1:26 left, to solidify the Pens lead at 5-1.
Orpik led all skaters in ice time with 23:03, while Martin had 22:03 and was a +3.
The Penguins’ next home game is Monday night in Consol Energy Center, when they take on the Phoenix Coyotes. The puck drops at 7:00pm.
1) Evgeni Malkin
2) Arron Asham
3) Brooks Orpik
PIT: Arron Asham (3), Deryk Engelland (4), Evgeni Malkin (38), Richard Park (6), Steve Sullivan (13)
COL: Matt Hunwick (2)
PIT: Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik (2), Jordan Staal, Steve Sullivan, James Neal, Paul Martin (2), Zbynek Michalek
COL: Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog
In the Net:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury (W) 35-36
COL: Jean-Sebastien Giguere (L) 23-27