While everyone has been spending the last month wondering about whether or not Crosby had been unseated at the top of the sport by McDavid or Matthews or whomever else because he didn’t score in his first 6 games of the season, Evgeni Malkin has been quietly ripping the league apart and scaling his way up the scoring race mountain.
With another 3 points last night, he brings his total to 5G-13A-18P in just 9 games this season, tied for 2nd most in the league.
Crosby, on the other hand, has opened the floodgates since scoring in Edmonton, amassing 5G-2A-7P in his last 3 games.
All of this without even mentioning that Phil! leads the team with 7 goals (14 points in total), while Letang is lurking around with 11 points from 9 games.
The big guns are all clicking for the Peng and the rest of the team is starting to follow along.
Over the last 4 games of this Canadian road trip, the Pens have now given up just 6 goals in those games, 5 of which came in just one game (Jack Johnson was on the ice for all 6 but whatever). They got hot, stayed hot, and you can justifiably call this an October heatwave as they now sit atop the Metro Division standings.
While fully understand that they played the Canucks last night, the Pens again were very good in mitigating unblocked shots from their goaltender’s doorstep.
To that point, of DeSmith’s 23 shots against at 5v5 last night, only 6 of them came from the high danger realm. In fact, of the 29 he faced in total, still just 6 came from that same area, which is a decent enough indicator to suggest that the Pens are finally starting to sort out their defensive woes.
It helps, too, that goaltending is finally back on the upswing.
Melt all of those positives into a cauldron, mix it all up, and the end result is a 4-0-0 road trip record, 8 more points banked, and a crown of gold.
With Brassard out after playing through a lower body injury for a few days, he got a couple days off to rest as Sprong sprung back into the lineup in his place. No other changes to the backend that smothered the Flames on Thursday, save for The Smith coming back in to make some saves.
PIT – 2nd Pd./5:50 – Phil!; A: Maatta, Malkin – 1-0
Early on in the game, neither team really looked unlikely to score. On just the second shift of the game, the seas parted for everything to open right up.
First, it was Hags hitting the iron behind Markstrom after Malkin had the puck knocked off his stick. Vancouver collected their shit, cleaning up their own zone and hitting Horvat on the jailbreak. Maatta was caught a little wider than he should’ve been giving Horvat enough space to land a moderately sized passenger plane in the space between him and Ruhwedel. Unfortunately for Horvat, he was trying to skate by Chad Ruhwedel and not Jack Johnson, which meant Ruhwedel was saving DeSmith from facing a breakaway shot with a delightful little stick lift and clearance.
Later in the period, Malkin continued to alpha the shit out of Vancouver, establishing dominance and superiority the likes of which we haven’t seen since Buffalo Bill.
But after a first period which saw both teams hit the post, trade off some scoring chances (10-6 at 5v5 in favor of the Pens), and the Pens kill off two penalties, it took just under 6 minutes into the 2nd for them to break the deadlock.
It should also come as no surprise that it came from the Hagelin-Malkin-Kessel line, either.
Deep in the zone, Phil! went to work behind the net, turning Stecher inside out before dropping it off to Malkin swooping in behind in support. Malkin, being tailed by Schaller, still had all the freedom in the world to skate back high into the zone and drop it off for Maatta swinging in on the overlap. Maatta held on to the puck long enough for Malkin to pull Schaller away from him, effectively acting as a pick, to give Maatta a clean look at the net while Hags and Pouliot were tied up in front. Phil! continued to elude Stecher, who appeared to think Phil! was just going to stop up at the side of the net before 81 slipped away, popping up on the other side of the net to bang home Maatta’s rebound.
PIT – 2nd Pd./16:34 – Crosby; A: Simon, Guentzel – 2-0
It did, however, take the Pens a little over ten minutes to strike again, this time coming from Simon-Crosby-Guentzel combining to turnstile the Canucks.
With Maatta picking up the errant puck in the neutral zone, he was able to patiently hit Guentzel at the far blue line to get the transition started. Crosby’s center drive coupled with the slow backchecking of Schaller created a lane for a cross-ice pass to Simon. Neither Gudbranson nor Del Zotto seemed keen on staying with Crosby, instead watching the pass that Bake had just made. Before they knew it, Simon was putting the puck right on Sid’s stick all alone in front of Markstrom and if you watch closely, you can see his groin leave his body as Crosby smokes another Western Canadian team on the backhand.
Not a big deal, but that would be Crosby’s 3rd backhand goal in as many games. Seems good.
PIT – 3rd Pd./14:15 – Malkin; A: Sprong – 3-0
As the 3rd period wore on, the Pens struggled to find the last nails to hammer into the Western Canada coffin. So instead, they went to Busy Beaver and bought a whole box of hot-dipped galvanized to finish the job.
Over the course of about a minute, Geno elevated himself from God Mode Apprentice to God Mode, doing the unimaginable and getting Dan Sprong his very first 5v5 high danger scoring chance of the season. Sprong was denied by Markstrom, but stayed on top of it, collecting his rebound and eventually peeling away from the net after his backhand chance was denied as well. Not a single Canuck put him under and sort of duress, giving him time and space to send a sexy ass pass back to Malkin, through the makeshift homeplate D formation, landing right on 71’s tape. He ain’t missing from there.
Dat pass doe. 13/10 would make sweet love to it.
PIT – 3rd Pd./15:14 – Malkin; A: Phil!, Hagelin – 4-0
Under a minute later, Vancouver tried their hardest to pull one back. Hot Carl had other plans, single handedly breaking up their attempt at getting into the Pens zone, stealing the puck and sending Malkin and Phil! the other way. Fortunately for Carl, he showed up on the scoresheet here because these are the plays he brings to this team that justify his $4M salary. What a player.
Just watch, too, as he gets on his horse and beats everyone else up ice. Pouliot gave Phil! a little too much space, but he had to try to take away the pass to Hagelin driving. Stecher was left for dead again, this time chasing Hags, so the space was there for Malkin just to coast into and take the pass from Phil!, who granted Gene permission to snipe before he even asked.
PIT – 3rd Pd./17:43 – Crosby; A: Oleksiak, Guentzel – 5-0
With the rout officially on, Sid and his large adult sons were not finished. Down low this time, Simon and Bake did Sutter and Hutton so dirty, beating up on them and taking the puck. The grimy work Simon did here didn’t show up as an assist, but it should have. Guentzel walked out and with the wall being sealed off, his was able to go to the center point to Oleksiak. For the second time, no Canuck D-man wanted to pick up Crosby, and that was that.
- Malkin’s 2G-1A aside, his line last night was pants ointment. Check it: at 5v5, they owned a 68.42 share of shot attempts (13-6), 80% share of shots on goal (8-2), 75% share of high danger scoring chances (3-1), and 85.71% share of scoring chances (12-2). You read that right- they had 12 scoring chances for and only 2 against. That’s batshit. What’s more, Phil! attempted 7 shots and 7 scoring chances himself, while Geno posted 6 attempted shots (6 of which ended up on goal) and had 5 scoring chances.
- Crosby, on the other, attempted 3 shots at 5v5, hitting the target on all 3 of them, while also individually having 3 scoring chances.
- Credit where credit is due- Dan Sprong looked decent last night. He shot the puck more than he has basically all season and that pass to Malkin was something special. In 10:46 of 5v5 ice time, he had 6 shots on goal on 6 attempts, 4 scoring chances, and the elusive high danger chance, while being on the ice for a 56.52% share of shot attempts. Hopefully this will be a building block for him to continue doing that thing.
Next up, the Pens head home to host the Islanders on Tuesday night in the first game of a home and home with the Isles before hosting the Leaves on Saturday night. Do it.