Pens aim for better start Saturday

The Penguins were, admittedly, a bit sluggish in the opening two periods of Thursday night’s 4-1 win against Colorado.

Chicago Blackhawks (17-6-3, 37 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (20-9-0, 40 points)

Even though they outshot the Avalanche, the Penguins were outplayed and outpaced for much of the opening two frames. A goal with seven seconds left in the first period allowed them to get on the board and a errant whistle in the second negated a Colorado goal to keep the game tied, 1-1, going in to the third.

“I don’t think we were happy with our game the first two periods,” Bill Guerin said Thursday. “We didn’t get to our system, to our style of play. In the third period we made a conscious effort to do it.”

Good teams can get away with that and win when playing opponents that aren’t stout defensively — such as Colorado’s and its goals against total, which stands at 93 this year. However, when the Chicago Blackhawks visit Mellon Arena Saturday, the Penguins likely won’t have that same benefit.

The likes of Patrick Kane (26 points), Jonathan Toews (16) and former Penguin Marian Hossa (four points in four games) have the ability to jump all over a sluggish team and build a cushion.

There’s also Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien, who have eight goals a piece.

And if last year has any relation to what we’ll see Saturday, the start of this game could be increasingly important.

As the Pens were just beginning their streak of wins under new coach Dan Bylsma, they faced a hot Chicago team with home ice aspirations heading in to the playoffs.

Pittsburgh had won three of four with wins over Montreal, Philadelphia and the New York Islanders. The Pens rolled in to the United Center with a lot of new found confidence, and it showed at the start of the game.

Jordan Staal scored just 3:36 in to the game and Chris Kunitz followed with a goal about five minutes later for an early 2-0 lead. It was needed padding on the scoreboard, as Toews scored before the end of the first period and then again to start the second to tie the game at 2-2.

Miroslav Satan and Max Talbot each scored right before the end of the second, but Toews came back with his third and Dave Bolland scored with less than five minutes in the third to send the game to overtime, 4-4.

In overtime the Penguins received a power play and Evgeni Malkin blasted a slapper home to win the game.

The Pens got off to a good start, but had trouble holding back the Chicago offensive attack. It might not be pretty if they struggle to start this one.

“That’s the way it is. You’re playing good teams in this league and you’re gonna be involved in good games,” Guerin said. “You’re not gonna blow out every single team every night. So you have to be ready for that.”

Bylsma admitted after beating Colorado that his team has maybe been a little fortunate in scoring timely goals, such as the one with seven seconds left in the first period and the power play, game-winner by Guerin in the third.

“We needed something to change momentum, we needed a break,” Bylsma said. “We got the five-on-three, we got the goal, and that set us up for the rest of the game. We played our best hockey after that.”

So best case scenario would be an early goal, which gets the team going against Chicago’s potent attack.

The Blackhawks, like Colorado Thursday night and Montreal on Nov. 25, are playing their second game in as many nights. An early lead might be what it takes to get a tired team down and out before they can do anything about it.

“I’d say that we did not exploit it (fatigue) as an advantage for ourselves,” Bylsma said. “That was our first look at (Colordao) in person and on the ice. They played very well, they got pucks to the offensive zone and got there with speed.”

Notes:

  • Bylsma said the power play’s game-winning goal Thursday night was a result of extra work put in during practices and in off-ice sessions with Mike Yeo. “The power play’s been working hard,” he said. “(We’ve) been doing a lot of video and working on it off the ice, on the ice. Your power play needs to win you games at certain times.”
  • Sidney Crosby said despite winning six of the last seven and playing as well as they have all year, it’s not a sign of this team peaking early on in the season. “We haven’t been terrible, but there’s room for improvement,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve peaked. There’s no doubt that we haven’t peaked yet. We’ve had a lot of injuries for the first little bit here, so whether that’s played a part, that’s just normal. It’s normal progression throughout the year to get better in areas and get used to things.”

Chris | PPT

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