The Penguins’ made an improbable comeback Tuesday night, countering the visiting Avalanche’s first-period offensive outburst, during which Colorado scored three goals in a span of less than five minutes, with five unanswered goals, including four in the third period. Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis, Brooks Orpik, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang all scored for the Pens. Tyler Kennedy, who returned after missing 11 games with a concussion, recorded an assist in the game.
While the wild finish had everyone in good spirits, Dan Bylsma and his players readily admitted that the way they started the game was unacceptable.
“I think everybody knows that that was an awful first period,” Penguins’ forward Pascal Dupuis said. “We came back in the second, even the first 10 minutes wasn’t pretty, but as soon as that second goal went in I think we refocused and found a way to win it.”
Bylsma attributed his team’s ability to bounce back after 30 minutes of sloppy, uninspired hockey to a combination of on-ice leadership and inspiring words in the locker room between periods. Apparently, Arron Asham’s assist on the Pens’ second goal of the game was followed by a spirited speech before the third period.
“It was a great job by Asham,” Malkin said. “He stood up and talked with the guys.”
Though credit must be given to the Penguins for fighting back, there were a few key bounces that helped them along the way. Aside from Orpik’s game-tying goal, which deflected off of Jay McClement’s skate and into the net, the Penguins got a break in the second period when, after turnovers by Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang led to a clean scoring chance that would have made the score 4-1, Colorado’s newly named Captain Milan Hejduk hit the post to preserve a surmountable two-goal deficit.
Despite showing some jump in the opening few minutes of the first period, the Pens failed to convert on a 47-second, 5-on-3 power play while the score was still tied at zero. And it just got worse from there.
The Avalanche opened the scoring when Jay McClement backhanded the rebound from Milan Hejduk’s bad-angle shot past Fleury at 14:51 of the first period. 2:35 later, 20-year-old Colorado forward Matt Duchene directed a feed from Paul Stastny between his legs in order to send a nifty back-hander past Fleury to give the Avs a 2-0 advantage with only 2:36 remaining in the opening frame.
Though the Pens cut Colorado’s lead in half about a minute later with Jordan Staal’s ninth goal of the season, David Jones easily split the Penguins’ defense to beat Fleury with only 15.3 seconds remaining in the first period.
After flailing in the beginning of the second period as well, the Penguins fought back again when Seymon Varlomov failed to freeze the puck after making the initial save on Arron Asham’s shot. After Varlomov lost control, the puck bounced off of Craig Adams and found it’s way to the top of the crease where Pascal Dupuis was able to poke it into an empty cage at 11:01 of the second.
“Arron Asham played one of his better games and I know was leading the charge,” Bylsma said.
Jay McClement got involved in another goal – this time the Pens’ tying tally that bounced off of the inside of his skate and past Varlomov at 1:12 into the third period. After receiving a drop pass from Malkin, Brooks Orpik, who played the entire game after being boarded behind the Penguins’ net in the first period, fired a shot from the point that took a lucky bounce on its way to the back of Colorado’s net.
Just 3:33 later, Malkin made an attempt, and perhaps succeeded, to one-up Duchene for the best highlight reel goal of the night, as he deked his way around Varlomov for his fifth goal of the season.
“The sequence leading up to (Malkin’s goal) as well as the goal was what we needed,” Bylsma said of the extended offensive zone time and puck possession that led to Malkin’s goal. “That shift was how we want to play…Geno made I don’t know if it was two, three moves that he ended up making, but I think we’re going to see that one again on the plays of the week.”
The Penguins continued to pour it on during their fourth power play of the game, when James Neal notched his 12th goal of the season. Steve Sullivan made it easy for Neal, with a perfect pass sent straight to his linemate’s stick at the left post. Neal now has at least one goal in each of Pittsburgh’s eight home games.
“I’m just going to let it happen,” he said jokingly. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Letang, who had not scored in 12 games, capped the scoring when he jumped up into the play and rushed to the net, putting his forehand to backhand shootout move to work on Varlamov.
While everyone from professional beat writers to hockey enthusiasts with a Twitter account have been nothing less than obsessive lately about when Sidney Crosby is going to return, there should be another question after Tuesday night’s game: How much better will the Pens be with their Captain’s offensive skills added to the mix?
Pittsburgh next plays Thursday at Tampa Bay.
1. James Neal
2. Evgeni Malkin
3. Kris Letang
PIT: Jordan Staal (9), Pascal Dupuis (4), Brooks Orpik (1), Evgeni Malkin (5), James Neal (12), Kris Letang (2)
COL: Jay McClement (2), Matt Duchene (7), David Jones (7)
PIT: Tyler Kennedy, Deryk Engelland, Craig Adams, Arron Asham, James Neal (2), Evgeni Malkin, Steve Sullivan, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal, Joe Vitale
COL: Milan Hejduk, Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny, Kyle Quincey, Jay McClement, T.J. Galiardi
IN THE NET:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury (W) 24-27
COL: Semyon Varlamov (L) 27-33