Young defensemen lift Penguins to win
Evgeni Malkin is just fine. Apparently the Penguins' blue line is, too.
Malkin scored a sensational goal, and the Penguins defensive corps, minus its three longest-tenured players, put on a clinic in a 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday.
Playing without Brooks Orpik (concussion), Paul Martin (broken leg) and Rob Scuderi (broken ankle), the Penguins received strong efforts from youngsters like Simon Despres, Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo, which nearly propelled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to his fourth shutout of the season.
Moments after Fleury came inches from scoring into an empty net for his first career goal, the Blue Jackets scored to pull within one. But the Penguins closed the deal.
“The way our defensemen played tonight,” Fleury said, “shows the kind of depth that we have.”
While Columbus enjoyed a significant puck possession advantage in the first period and fired 33 shots at Fleury, few of his saves came against legitimate opportunities.
Rather, the defensemen displayed strong positional play throughout and overcame their forwards turning the puck over with frequency. Sidney Crosby, in fact, was charged with three turnovers.
But the Penguins blue line didn't budge, and one of those defensemen seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Despres sounds like a player on a mission.
It remains unknown whether Despres will stick in the NHL once the Penguins blue line gets healthy — coach Dan Bylsma called him a “top-four defenseman” last summer only to exile him to Wilkes-Barre before the preseason had concluded — but he sounds like a guy who thinks Despres belongs, even if he acknowledges his opinion is irrelevant.
“I know I'm an NHL player,” Despres said. “I can play at this level. There are a lot of good defensemen here. It doesn't matter what I think.”
Plenty of Penguins are impressed with how Despres has played, including a player who watched him in Wilkes-Barre for much of this season.
“The guy is impressive,” forward Jayson Megna said. “He was one of the best guys on the ice every night in Wilkes-Barre, and, honestly, he's been pretty darn good here as well. You can see the confidence boost he has right now.”
Maatta was impressive, too, as he continues to play on the top pairing with Kris Letang. Maatta led a rush and received an assist when Crosby crashed to the net and was credited with his 16th goal of the season in the third period. Maatta played 19:40 and was a plus-1.
“That play with Olli coming out of the D-zone,” Bylsma said. “That was a big play for us.”
Earlier in the game, Malkin made a big play of his own. Having missed the previous two games because of an unknown injury, Malkin produced a burst of speed, blowing past defenseman Fedor Tyutin before depositing a shot over goalie Curtis McElhinney to give the Penguins a lead they'd never relinquish.
This night, though, belonged to the defense.
“Sometimes you need to grind games out like this,” Megna said. “It felt good.”
“Simon, Kris and Olli had to play under some tough conditions,” Bylsma said. “They did well.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers RB Archer trying to catch up after tough rookie season
- Steelers LB Timmons has grown into leadership role on defense
- Judge lets New Kensington Ten Commandments monument stand
- Consol takes $603 million loss in second quarter
- Steelers notebook: Backup QB Gradkowski remains out with shoulder issue
- Rising East Liberty out of reach for Pittsburgh’s poor
- Leisure, hospitality lead Pittsburgh area job gains
- Pirates third baseman Ramirez’s last ride is about winning a ring
- Dollars and sense: High cost of child care keeps many out of work force
- UPMC, Allegheny Health Network employees win lunch-pay lawsuits
- Watering garden right during summer’s high temperatures makes difference