PITTSBURGH–A thorough demolition of the Maple Leafs last night underlined essential truths about the Penguins.
Pittsburgh’s surge of recent success is not just about the kids. But those young guns are awfully good, especially when given room to dance on the power play.
An 8-2 humbling of their visitors from the north, including thousands of Leaf fans, gave Pittsburgh seven points in its last four games, jumping the team into a three-way tie for the final playoff spot with Toronto and the New York Rangers.
Mark Recchi, Pittsburgh’s elder citizen at 38, was a one-man wrecking crew with a natural hat trick and an assist. Veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar had a good night as well with three assists.
As for the dynamic duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they performed their usual magic, particularly on the power play. Crosby had a goal and two assists while Malkin chipped in with five helpers. Pittsburgh’s power play went 5 for 10 in the game.
The Leaf road trip, after two wins in Florida, petered out in a big way as the NHL now takes a break for its all-star festivities at Dallas. The days off will be a chance for the Leafs to both heal and lick their wounds. With several key injuries, many of the forwards have been logging unfamiliar ice time.
The Leafs did not have Darcy Tucker back in the lineup. The hope is that the extended break – Toronto doesn’t play until next Saturday when the Canadiens come calling – will remove any pain issues for the team’s leading scorer as he recovers from tiny bone fractures in his foot.
Goalie Andrew Raycroft, strong in those two outings in the Sunshine State, was yanked after facing 21 shots over 40 minutes and the Penguins ahead 5-1.
Despite the glut of young talent on the Penguins, one concern for the club is the lack of scoring off the wings.
Pittsburgh has three bright young stars in the middle in Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal. Those three have accounted for 63 of Pittsburgh’s 151 goals, a whopping 42 per cent of the team’s output.
Recchi, often forgotten in the glowing dispatches about Pittsburgh’s youth brigade, is the only winger to surpass the 10-goal mark.
To help balance the Penguins’ scoring, coach Michel Therrien has been using the 18-year-old Staal as a left winger on the second line with Malkin in the middle. Therrien has also tried using Crosby and Malkin as linemates – they often play together on the power play anyway – but the coach believes that undercuts his goal of balanced scoring lines.
“We put those guys together when we need a lift,” Therrien explained.
“We got four or five wins in a row when those guys were playing together, but it kind of affected the balance of our lines. It’s good for a short time, but in the long run you know it’s not going to work.
“We’re not satisfied with the rest of our lines’ production, but we sense we’re balanced offensively and we’re getting the success we’re looking for right now.”
You’d never have known scoring of any type was a problem for the Pens last night, especially from their wingers.
As Pittsburgh built a 5-1 lead through the first two periods, all five goals came from wingers, if you count converted centre Staal’s even-strength marker in the first.
Malkin and Crosby, who really can put on a show, still managed to play a big part in the mounting score with their sublime passing.
It was Recchi who benefited most from that dynamic duo as he potted three goals – a natural hat trick – in the first 40 minutes.
The three power-play goals bumped Recchi’s total to 14 for the season.