Malkin-less Penguins are able to manhandle Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. — Already missing an abundance of star power from their lineup, the Penguins received late word Saturday that center Evgeni Malkin wouldn't play against Florida because of an upper-body injury.
And so the Penguins altered their game plan, relying more on a physical approach.
The Penguins dished out punishing hits throughout the night, beating Florida into submission in a 3-1 victory.
Brenden Morrow scored twice, and Kris Letang added a goal. The Penguins out-hit Florida, 40-25.
“With some of our top skill guys out, being physical was something we had to do,” said right wing Beau Bennett, who produced two assists. “We wanted to take it out on their ‘D,' wear them down. That's what we did.”
Coach Dan Bylsma said following the game that Malkin aggravated an upper-body injury and was held out of the lineup. He has missed nine games this season because of a shoulder injury.
The Penguins didn't need him Saturday.
Forwards Joe Vitale and Craig Adams led the way with five hits each, while wingers Chris Kunitz, Morrow and Matt Cooke also delivered a number of explosive body checks.
Although Florida entered the game with the Eastern Conference's poorest record, it was clear early that the Penguins weren't taking the Panthers lightly. This was a theme in the road trip that saw the Penguins go 3-0 against three of the NHL's worst teams.
The Penguins faltered down the stretch last season against some of the NHL's poorer teams. They don't intend on letting that happen again.
“I forgot about last season,” Cooke said. “We're focusing on this year. That's what's important. You can't take any games off because you don't want to create bad habits. We're trying to prepare for the playoffs, and being physical is part of that. We're just trying to play the right way.”
Cooke doesn't think Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson always plays the right way. Florida's hulking defenseman triggered Malkin's injury problems with a hit Feb. 22 that launched the league's reigning MVP into the boards at Consol Energy Center, giving him a concussion. A penalty was not called on that play.
Gudbranson hit Cooke from behind late in the third period Saturday and received a boarding minor.
“He had a couple of opportunities when he was looking me in the eyes, and he chooses not to hit me,” Cooke said. “When he sees my number, he drives me into the boards.”
The game was filled with images of Panthers being driven into the boards.
An effective job of forechecking led to each of the Penguins' first-period goals.
Letang scored off a shot from the left point to give the Penguins the lead. Morrow, who is becoming more of a physical presence each game, pounced on a loose puck and scored to make it 2-0 late in the first period.
He added an empty-net goal with 21 seconds left, only moments after goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made his 25th and final save, denying Tomas Fleischmann on a breakaway. Fleury leads the NHL with 21 wins.
The Penguins lead the Eastern Conference by seven points and have won 19 of their past 21 games. They are 16-5-0 on the road.
“We're better when we're on the body, and we have quite a few guys in here that like to do that,” Adams said. “We were physical. It was evident.”
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