Following one of the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ worst home-ice performances of recent memory, they responded with one of their best.
Pittsburgh (34-13-2, 70 points) has risen to first place in the Eastern Conference with the help of a 21-4 record at home, but there haven’t too many cruise-control games like Wednesday’s this season. The Penguins scored three times in the second period to skate away with the win, their 20th in their past 25 matches overall (20-4-1).
Jussi Jokinen scored twice to reach 15 goals on the season, while Evgeni Malkin (goal, assist) and Matt Niskanen (two assists) joined him in the multi-point club. Sidney Crosby netted his team-leading 26th goal and Taylor Pyatt netted his second in a Penguins uniform, supporting Marc-Andre Fleury‘s 23 saves.
The Pens seemed to lack energy for much of Monday’s 5-1 defeat, which snapped their franchise-record 13-game home win streak. By way of rebounding, they overwhelmed the Canadiens (27-17-5, 59 points) with speed and execution, eventually forcing presumed Canadian Olympic starter Carey Price from the Montreal net.
Malkin was difficult to contain all night, and his elusiveness created the first goal of the game. Niskanen’s chip pass up the right wing found Malkin, who blew around Andrei Markov and dished a blind pass to Jokinen in the left circle. The Finnish veteran buried the perfect feed at 8:48 of the first.
Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play got in the offensive act later in the period, as Pyatt tipped in Niskanen’s center-point blast with 3:35 remaining before intermission. Montreal’s Rene Bourque countered 75 seconds later by poking a loose puck high into the goal, but the second period belonged to the Penguins.
Jokinen restored Pittsburgh’s two-goal advantage at 5:46 of the middle frame, knuckling a one-timer over Price’s glove after a smooth cross-rink set-up from rookie countryman Olli Maatta. Exactly six minutes later, the league’s leading scorer connected next on the power play when Kris Letang fired a hard pass to the side of the net for Crosby to neatly redirect into the twine.
Malkin then put his signature on the game by beating Markov (again) on a soaring rush, tucking the rebound of his own shot around Price’s right pad at 15:03. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien responded by yanking Price, whom the Penguins burned for five goals on 21 shots.
On the other end of the ice, Fleury made a handful of significant saves when the game was still close, a performance emblematic of his season to date. In a first for the 29-year-old netminder, he attempted to fight counterpart Peter Budaj during a scrum late in the third period, but officials got between the two willing combatants.
The Penguins will tackle a back-to-back situation Thursday night in New York, as they face the Islanders at 7 p.m.
Notes: Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 31-24 and had a 54-48 edge in shot attempts…The Penguins went 2 for 5 on the power play, victimizing the NHL’s best road penalty kill. The Habs missed on all three advantages they were given…Twelve Penguins recorded at least a point, including all six defensemen.