Some say beating up on the Winnipeg Jets isn’t all that impressive. “Experts” claim the Western Conference is far superior to the Eastern. The Nashville Predators were emerging as a Stanley Cup contender and then they added an elite scorer from the KHL, potentially making them the favorite. Last night, the Penguins sent a message that if that’s the best the West has to offer, the Cup is going to be staying in the Eastern Time zone.
Obviously the NHL plays a long season and teams are going to have off nights. If the Preds want to chalk up last night as one of those occasions, go ahead. And while they’re at it, they can stay up late and hope to catch the Easter Bunny. When the Pens are playing the way they have been, the opponents are pretty much irrelevant. And that evident in last night’s 5-1 ********. The Pens are getting goal scoring from every line and they’re scoring in all fashions.
Last night was a perfect example of this with an early lucky goal by Geno Malkin followed quickly by a deflection goal by our newest sniper Pascal Dupuis. Before Nashville realized the game started it was already 2-0. A two-goal lead and the feeling that they could essentially have their way with the Preds led to a few chances at the other end, but a missed tap-in and Marc-Andre Fleury, who became the first goalie to win 40 games this year, prevented Nashville from getting back into the game.
The second period brought more of the same when James Neal set up two more goals before eight minutes had surpassed. Known primarily as a sniper Neal decided to show off his other tools as he picked off a pass in the offensive zone creating a breakaway/2-on-0. I would say 98% of the league would have taken the shot or made a move and clearly Pekka Rinne thought that as well; instead Neal pulled Rinne to one side and sent the puck back to Matt Cooke for an easy score. When you’re playing the way the Pens are you can make those unselfish plays because you’re not worried about stats.
At 4-0, after a Chris Kunitz goal, the game was over but a bad bounce landed right on the stick of the newest NHLer, Alexander Radulov, to finally get the Preds on the board.
With early goals in each of the first two periods Geno decided to finish the night off with a rocket over the glove hand of the elite (really?) Rinne to put and end to any miracle comeback plans the Predators had, clinching the Pens 5-1 victory.
A quick look at the box score that showed the Pens getting out shot 30-23, which allows for a wide range of excuses, but definitely doesn’t show the control the Pens had and the ease at which they dominated.
Up next is a weekend double header with a pair of playoff teams in Ottawa and back home against New Jersey. The Rangers aren’t going to go down easy so the Pens need to continue to pick up points to avoid a tough first round opponent.