Depth scoring steers Pens to 10th straight win
It started with the New York Rangers, and it has not stopped yet for the Penguins. A convincing 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night was marked by the following:
• Center Evgeni Malkin's fifth goal against the Rangers, or 12.8 percent of his 39 markers on the season.
• Goals from wingers Matt Cooke (two), Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, to make the Penguins the only team this season to post five in regulation against the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers.
• An assist by center Jordan Staal that extended his point streak to nine games.
• A plus-5 rating by defenseman Kris Letang in his first game since Feb. 29.
• An assist and a plus-3 rating from center Sidney Crosby, who had not played since Dec. 5.
All of this was, by Dupuis' assessment, among the best of the Penguins' 43 victories.
Certainly, Dupuis said, it was the "biggest" of their 10 consecutive wins — mostly because it pulled them within four points of the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.
This streak started against the Rangers at Consol Energy Center on Feb. 21.
"It felt right to have all three centers," Dupuis said. "We showed we're a deep team, but I don't know. I feel like 'Flower' had to make too many saves."
Another full-bloom performance by Marc-Andre "Flower" Fleury was what had the streaking Penguins buzzing after they matched the third longest winning streak in team history. Fleury's 29 saves placed him within two victories of the 40-win plateau he identified as a goal before the season.
The Rangers were without their Vezina Trophy favorite, Henrik Lundqvist, who, like Malkin, is a strong contender for the Hart Trophy annually awarded to the NHL's most valuable player.
Malkin lobbied voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to vote for Fleury.
"On my team, of course, the MVP is 'Flower,' " he said. "He's had an unbelievable season. There are (a) lot of players, but 'Flower' is our MVP."
Right wing James Neal's tenacious defense against Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh forced an offensive-zone turnover that led to Malkin's early second-period goal that staked the Penguins to a 2-1 lead.
Neal described that play, including Malkin's muscle-in-the-crease finish against Rangers goalie Martin Biron, as "Penguins hockey — a combination of physicality, speed and skill."
The Penguins finished with seven giveaways to the Rangers' 12, and won despite losing key categories such as face-offs, blocked shots and hits.
They won because of Fleury, said Neal.
"Why not write about how good he is every night?" Neal said.
Fleury is second overall in wins, but his .917 save percentage ranks only 16th, and his 2.26 goals-against average is just 10th.
"But I think he's the best goalie in the league," Neal said. "In this room, everyone knows what he can do, how he plays. This year he's been, every game, making huge saves at a key time to keep us in it."
Orpik said Fleury "doesn't care" that he likely will not be one of the three Vezina finalists, but Dupuis added that
"it's ridiculous the way people think of 'Flower' outside of Pittsburgh."
"He's been up there as our top player most of the games," Dupuis said.
Fleury allowed fewer than three goals for the 16th start dating to Jan. 10. The Penguins are 22-5-1 over that span.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said his club "had some really good chances" against the Penguins, and he was spot-on with that assessment.
The Penguins, though, had Fleury in net.
As for what that means to them, Malkin offered a firm assessment.
"It means we win," he said.
Pens vs. Rangers 3/15/12
The Pittsburgh Penguins win 5-2 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden March 15, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The longest winning streaks in Penguins history:
GAMES -- DATES, YEAR -- RESULT
17 -- March. 9-April 10, 1993 -- Lost, Round 2
12 -- Nov. 17-Dec. 11, 2010 -- Lost, Round 2
10 -- Jan. 28-Feb 15, 1999 -- Lost, Round 2
10 -- Feb. 21-current -- TBD
Source: Penguins media relations