The Penguins ended January as they began it: systematically dismantling a Southeast division opponent.
The first period was mostly even, as the teams seemed to be feeling each other out. Late in the period, Michel Ouellet finished a 2-on-1 pass from Evgeni Malkin to make it 1-0.
In the second, Florida fell apart. Early on, Jarkko Ruutu went digging in the corner and flicked a backhand pass to Dominic Moore, who was able to skate into the slot uncovered and slip a backhand between Ed Belfour's legs. 2-0 Pens. In the middle of the period, the Panthers took a string of minor penalties, leading to plenty of 5-on-3 time for the Pens. Of course, they waited until it was 5-on-4 again to score. Sidney Crosby almost got decapitated for the second time in two minutes (the first resulted in one of those penalties), but was able to find Ouellet, who set up Ryan Whitney for one of his patented backdoor pinch one-timers. 3-0 Pens.
The third period was Marc-Andre Fleury's time to shine. Florida came out storming and didn't let up, while the Penguins were content to fall back on their defense. Fleury was able to withstand multiple barrages of shots. One power play shot almost got away from him. A point shot trickled under his arm and sat in the crease. Whitney lifted the stick of a Panthers forward, Jordan Staal swooped in with his long reach to clear the puck to the boards, and Alain Nasreddine plowed another Panther into the net, knocking it off its moorings and drawing a whistle, all in the span of a second.
The confidence level of this team is through the rusted shut Mellon Arena roof right now. Michel Therrien has finally found four lines that he can stick with:
- Ryan Malone – Sidney Crosby – Mark Recchi
- Jordan Staal – Evgeni Malkin – Michel Ouellet
- Erik Christensen – Dominic Moore – Colby Armstrong
- Jarkko Ruutu – Maxime Talbot – Ronald Petrovicky/Chris Thorburn
Where Nils Ekman will fit into this when he comes back from an elbow injury, who knows?
Meanwhile, on defense, an injury and a comeback from injury have shuffled the pairings for the better. With Josef Melichar on the shelf with an MCL injury, the pairings look like:
- Mark Eaton – Sergei Gonchar
- Brooks Orpik – Ryan Whitney
- Rob Scuderi – Alain Nasreddine
Eaton was by far the Pens' best blueliner before he was injured. He and Gonchar make a natural pair. With Eaton's stay-at-home style, Gonchar has more freedom to create offensively at even strength. It was this pair that was assigned to stop Olli Jokinen last night, and they came through with flying colors. Jokinen was limited to one shot on goal, and was a non-factor all night.
Final score: Penguins 3, Panthers 0, Florida's winning streak in Pittsburgh before this game: 7.
- Marc-Andre Fleury (32-save shutout)
- Michel Ouellet (1G, 1A)
- Ryan Whitney (1G)