by John Toperzer
Maybe you caught it, maybe you didn’t.
The Penguins crushed a late second-period power play Thursday against the Islanders, controlling the puck for 85 seconds in the New York zone before lighting the lamp with a Kris Letang slapper.
It was just an amazing display Meadowlark Lemon would’ve been proud of.
The Pens passed the puck 42 times before scoring.
The team might not be able to win a playoff series this way, but episodes like this make the 82-game regular season more than bearable.
Here’s what happened.
Sidney Crosby wins the faceoff in the right circle, moves it back to Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin moves it back to Crosby along the right boards.
Crosby throws the puck to James Neal at the top of the right circle.
Neal one-touches the puck back to Crosby.
Crosby again plays catch with Neal in the same spot.
Crosby then passes to a breaking Neal.
Neal shoots high and wide right.
Kris Letang rushes to retrieve the puck along the left wall.
Letang backhands the puck along the wall toward the end boards.
The puck avoids two Pens and an Isle, going behind the net.
Former Penguin, Brian Strait, gets the puck on his forehand.
With his head up, Strait attempts to clear the puck along the boards.
Malkin keeps it in with a backhand at the point.
Crosby finds the puck on the right boards.
Crosby then blindly backhands a pass to the slot, where Neal receives it.
Neal shoots wide right.
Chris Kunitz one-times the loose puck at the bottom of the left circle with a pass behind the net.
Crosby accepts the pass along the right boards below the right circle.
He passes it out to the right point, where Malkin is waiting for it.
Malkin moves the puck back to Crosby, who is now higher along the right boards.
Crosby one-times the puck over to Neal, who is above the right dot.
Neal slowly shuffles the puck back to Crosby, who takes a slapper inside the right circle.
Crosby’s shot goes off goalie Kevin Poulin and perhaps Kunitz, down low along the right end boards.
Crosby gets the puck again and backhands it behind the Islanders net.
Letang picks it up at the left point and skates in on the left boards.
He does a 360-degree pirouette inside the left circle and then passes it back to Neal at the left point.
Neal dribbles a pass to Malkin high in the slot.
Malkin rifles a slap shot that his shoulder would’ve prevented him from doing last season.
Goalie Poulin blocker saves the shot and the puck goes back to Letang along the left boards.
Letang makes a move, then feathers a backhand to Neal on the inside of the left circle.
Neal tees off with a shot that goes wide left and behind the goal.
Crosby picks the puck up down low behind the net to Poulin’s left.
He softly sticks the puck out to Malkin just inside the blue line.
Malkin passes to a wide open Letang inside the left circle.
Letang lifts a pass back over to Malkin that Malkin corrals with both feet and his stick.
Malkin goes back to Letang, who has crept in below the left dot inside the circle.
Letang tries a five-foot pass to Kunitz.
The pass is tipped by an Islander.
Kunitz awkwardly receives the pass and shoots wide right, almost takes Neal’s head off.
Crosby corrals the puck along the right boards.
Crosby finds Letang, who is wide open again, in the left circle.
Letang passes 15 feet to James Neal in the slot.
Neal one-times the puck. It richotes off two Islanders in the air.
The second Islander bats the puck back to Neal, who gloves the puck out of the air.
Neal settles the puck on the ice and passes to Crosby in the right circle.
Crosby passes from the right circle to the left circle to Letang.
Letang shoots the puck.
It hits off the goalie and possibly the goalpost, then comes back out to Letang.
Letang throws it from the left boards to Malkin, who’s just inside the blue line on the same side.
Malkin passes to Neal in the slot, who one-time passes the puck to Crosby at the top of the right circle.
Crosby fakes a shot, finds a wide open Letang once again in the left circle.
Letang one-times his shot off goalie Poulin for a goal as a crest-fallen Andrew McDonald trips over Poulin trying to get in the way of the shot
The Islanders were unable to clear their zone even one time.
Play was never whistled once during the 85-second power play.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi said on Trib-Live radio Friday morning that he believes Steve Ott and perhaps Matt Moulson are two players GM Ray Shero might have trade interest in.
Rossi also said that he believes the Penguins are more publicly optimistic about a possible March return by Tomas Vokoun than they are privately.
Chris Kunitz has 53 points in 51 games in 2013-14 and 151 points in his last 152 games, dating back to Dec. 10, 2011.
Matt Niskanen told Mike Lange prior to Wednesday’s game about his role on the power play. Niskanen said that the first-team power-play unit scores about 80 percent of the goals on the man advantage. He added that if the second unit cashes in for a goal once every three games then it’s doing a good job.
It might be time for someone to do advanced hockey metrics breaking down between first unit and second unit power-play time and production — not just overall power-play time, especially on a team like the Penguins.
Kris Letang is raising his value — whether it’s with the Penguins or for another team. Letang has 10 goals in 32 games, including four goals and seven points in eight games since coming off IR. He’s reached the 10 goal mark twice before, but not in so few games.
Letang potted 10 goals in 74 games during the 2008-09 campaign and 10 goals in 51 contests in 2010-11.
Matt Niskanen has 17 points in his last 16 games. For the season, Niskanen has scored 30 points (7G, 23A) in 30 games with an NHL-leading plus-29 rating.
How much is Niskanen doing this on his own and how much is he benefiting from the elite players around him? GM Ray Shero needs to consider the question before extending the soon-to-be unrestricted free agency — or trading him.
Remember, this is a player who totaled five points in 25 games earlier in the 2013-14. He’s hot right now, but will it last?
My own personal feeling is that Niskanen would be willing to take a “hometown” discount to stay with the Pens. Deciding whether a $4.5 to $5 million AAV contract is a worthwhile endeavor is another question. At the least, Shero will need to do his due diligence in finding out what Niskanen might bring on the trade market.
Most teams tighten up defensively with young backups in the crease. The Penguins even managed to do that for a couple games with Brad Thiessen in goal last season.
Oddly, Pittsburgh’s offense picks up the pace with Jeff Zatkoff in goal. During Zatkoff’s nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1), the Penguins have scored 41 goals for an average of 4.55 goals per game. In 51 games overall, the Pens have averaged 3.29 goals per game.
Funny how that works!
“You know, this league isn’t some giant video game,” Scuderi said. “It’s not going to come right away. You don’t just take a guy from one team, put him on another team and expect him to do exactly what he did with the other team. It takes time.”
“He’s every bit of what [the Penguins’ pro scouts] said he was going to be,” assistant coach Tony Granato said: “A scorer who, offensively, was going to be able to play in our top-six and complement one of our top two centers, and a guy who competes. They were right on.”
Security has become a front-burner issue in recent weeks, and Shero said “we’re going to find out more in the next little while” what additional actions might be taken to safeguard U.S. players and staff. He added that while it’s “just human nature” for people to be concerned about security at the Games, precedent shows a high-profile sporting event isn’t the only target a terrorist might consider.
“When you’re at a mall sometimes, you think about this stuff,” Shero said. “Anywhere, this stuff could happen. There just happens to be much more publicity surrounding [the Games], for sure.”
Jagr recorded two assists on the night and now has 1,033 in his NHL career, tying Mario Lemieux for tenth place all-time. Marcel Dionne is ninth with 1,040 assists. Jagr now has points in three straight games (2g-2a-4pts).