After a rough start to the month of November where it seemed everything was going against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have bounced back nicely with back-to-back wins this week. It began with an impressive 3-1 win on Monday against one of the best teams in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, followed by a convincing 4-0 shutout of the Washington Capitals Wednesday night.
In a time of turning the puck over, lack of execution and being out-coached, head coach Dan Bylsma needs to continue what he has been doing with this club. They are keeping things simple.
They have now found a rhythm after mixing up a few of their lines in an attempt to get certain players going. On top of that, they are playing a much more defensively sound game, blocking shots, killing penalties and capitalizing on their power play. If those elements are in play, the timely scoring just seems to come naturally with the offensive talent on this team; it does not need to be forced.
Evgeni Malkin still has some things to work on as he continues to pass up on opportunities when he has a clear lane. It is almost as if he does not want to shoot the puck for some unknown reason. He is, however, glad to have linemate James Neal back in the lineup. But he has now gone 15-straight games without a goal despite tallying four assists during the last two games.
Pittsburgh was able to hang tough Monday against the Ducks in a game that has the potential to be a 1-0 result. No goals were scored until the third period when things opened up. Anaheim did everything they could against Marc-Andre Fleury, but he stole that game for the team stopping 27-of-28 shots.
Wednesday, the Penguins’ defense truly showed up against a very dangerous Washington offense with multiple weapons. They allowed just 18 shots on goal, resulting in Fleury’s 25th career shutout and second of the season.
What really set the tone in this game was the penalty kill. The Capitals had an early chance to take a 1-0 lead when Craig Adams was called off for tripping at 3:24. The PK unit for the Penguins came up huge and Fleury stopped a pair of Alex Ovechkin one-timers to keep it a scoreless game.
This gave Pittsburgh an early momentum shift and never looked back scoring two goals in the first from Paul Martin and Beau Bennett.
Another aspect of the game that the Penguins have struggled in was playing out an entire period. Each time it gets within the last minute of the frame, Pittsburgh seems to tail off and give up big goals which send them to the locker rooms with their heads in the ground. That was not the case Wednesday night. Sidney Crosby connected on a power play goal at 19:31 to give his team a 3-0 edge.
If Crosby does not score that goal, the chances of a comeback would be more realistic for Washington on their home ice.
All of the little things Pittsburgh has done over the last two games (big or small) have given them a boost of confidence as they head into another back-to-back weekend. As long as Bylsma can keep things simple and concentrate on doing the little things to win a hockey game, the Penguins have a good chance to extend their lead in the Metropolitan Division.