Penguins Get Bruined

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost the home portion in the first game of a home-and-home series with the red-hot Boston Bruins 5-2 on Tuesday night.  The seemingly unstoppable Bruins won their 9th straight game and finished the month of December with an amazing 12-1 record.  Even more impressive, they are 23-2-1 since the beginning of November.  For the Penguins, it has been a December to forget as their record for the month sunk to 5-8-1.  To their credit, the struggling Penguins put up 34-shots against the oppressive Bruins defense and were robbed several times by the stellar play of goaltender Tim Thomas.  The difference maker ultimately was Boston’s special teams, which scored 2 powerplay goals and a short-hander while stopping the few man-advantage opportunities for the Penguins.  Officiating seemed to favor the Bruins with some questionable calls against the Penguins, most notably a hooking call against Evgeni Malkin sprawling on the ice with one hand on his stick.  I saw at least 2 more obvious hooks by the Bruins uncalled.  That, however, is the type of adversity that great teams find ways to play through and tonight it just wasn’t in the cards for the Penguins against a team as strong as the Bruins. 

With the game moving at a frenzied pace in the 1st period, Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding in net and stopped all 16-shots thrown his way.  The Penguins took two penalties in the first period, but managed to escape unscathed.  Then, with 3-minutes left in the period, the Penguins’ Dustin Jeffrey threw a sharp angle shot on net that rebounded out to Ruslan Fedotenko and then onto the backhand of Petr Sykora in front of a gaping net.  Sykora threw his 13th goal of the season into the net to make it 1-0, giving Dustin Jeffrey his first NHL-point.  Fedotenko picked up the other assist.  Just 50-seconds later, the Penguins went on the powerplay but were ultimately unable to connect and extend their 1-goal lead.  The Penguins were outshot 16-10 in the first, with 5-shots coming from the Bruins powerplay.

In the 2nd period, the Penguins found themselves in penalty trouble as they found themselves short-handed three times with no powerplay chances of their own to balance things out.  What’s worse, the league’s #3 powerplay made them pay as the Bruins scored on the first 2-chances.  At 4:24, Brooks Orpik took 2-minutes for intereference that led to a powerplay goal by Zdeno Chara, from P.J. Axelsson and Dennis Wideman.  Chara ended up sneaking in a wide-open back door at 4:46 where he took a cross-ice pass to make an easy goal.  Then at 8:56, Evgeni Malkin was called for a questionable hooking penalty as he was mostly prone on the ice with one hand on his stick.  Just 34-seconds later, Marc Savard roofed an impressive powerplay goal that rocketed over Fleury’s shoulder as he hugged the post and sent the water bottle airborne.  David Krejci and Dennis Wideman picked up the assists on the play to make it 2-1.  At 15:13, the Penguins managed to tie it back up as Sidney Crosby gloved down a failed clearing attempt by Zdeno Chara and passed the puck across the ice to Pascal Dupuis who launched a missile over Tim Thomas’ shoulder to make it 2-2.  The tie was short-lived, however, as Phil Kessel grabbed a turnover off from Evgeni Malkin and passed it to Marc Savard before getting it back and beating Marc-Andre Fleury at 6:43 to make it 3-2, Boston.   The Bruins again outshot the Penguins 14-11 in the period, and were 2-for-3 on the powerplay.

Although the Penguins went into the 3rd period down by just a goal, they lost any momentum they could have had when Sidney Crosby turned over the puck and they gave up a short-handed goal at 5:38 instead of converting on a rare powerplay opportunity.  Athough the Penguins did manage to outshoot the Bruins in the 3rd, the short-handed goal seemed to punctuate how the rest of the period would play out.  On the short-hander, it was Martin St. Pierre with a nifty wrister for his first goal of the season on a pass from none other than the NHL’s plus/minus leader Marc Savard.  Then at 9:38, the Bruins put the game completely out of reach as Dennis Wideman notched his 8th of the season from Zdeno Chara and P.J. Axelsson to make it 5-2.  Late in the frame, call-up Tim Wallace got a shot to the back of the head by Milan Lucic and he responded with a valiant attempt against the much larger Lucic.  A number of shots were exchanged, and while it was hardly a fair matchup, Wallace held his own in the lengthy battle.  Personally, I would have preferred to have seen a Godard or Bissonnette on the Penguins’ side as I suspect that result would have resonated with Lucic longer, but that was an impossible scenario with both players out of the lineup. 

Jordan Staal became the youngest player to appear in 200 NHL games at 20 years, 111 days, four days younger than San Jose’s Patrick Marleau was when he played in his 200th during the 1999-2000 season.  The Penguins are heading to Boston next for a New Year’s Day rematch against the Bruins.

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