One could argue today lacked the feel of a meaningful NHL game.
For the fourth week in a row, the Pittsburgh Penguins were to play on a Sunday afternoon. This time, however, was not a nationally televised NBC game.
The Penguins entered today's contest losers of their last four out of seven. Penguins fans have been left to wonder what to make of their team as of late. Wednesday's victory over the New York Islanders was a breath of fresh air, despite it's wide array of flaws. Thursday's pre-Olympic roster freeze came and went without a whisper. Friday's overtime loss to the Rangers showed complacency and left us with the feeling that the team had become tired, or even worse, distracted.
Sunday, the flightless birds would play their final game before the Olympic break, the last we will see of the team in the month of February.
When the Penguins drew a penalty and went on the man-advantage, most assumed that the Penguins power-play would continue to be lacking as well.
Enter Crosby to Malkin.
Even during the lowest of lows in recent Penguins play, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have delivered as well as any superstars on anyone's hockey team. Malkin took advantage of Nashville's complacency on the penalty-kill, dished the puck to Crosby, who continues to shatter career highs on a nightly basis, and give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
At this moment, the levy broke and it became a real game again. The period ended with solid play from Nashville goalie Dan Ellis refusing to allow a one goal gap to widen, followed by a scrap between Malkin and Preds defenseman Dan Hamhuis that would result in a Nashville powerplay to start the second period.
Only minutes later, the Penguins, behind the Staal-centered third line, swung like a wrecking ball through the Nashville defense. Pittsburgh forward Tyler Kennedy dished to Jordan Staal who was denied by Dan Ellis, but Matt Cooke's hustle paid off, as he buried Staal's rebound to quickly allow the Penguins to regain the lead.
Almost instantly, things went awry again for a Penguins lead.
The Penguins couldn't respond to Nashville's forecheck off the ensuing face-off and Jordin Tootoo scored on a Marcel Goc rebound.
Following the Nashville goal, Pittsburgh's defense, whose struggles have been well-documented as of late, found it nearly impossible to keep up with the Predators. Luckily for the Pens, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't ready to say goodbye to Pittsburgh and hello to Vancouver just yet, and played his A-game in the second period, preventing the Preds from taking the lead.
Still, like the first period, the Penguins were forced to rely on their PK to prevent the game from getting out hand. Craig Adams put on a penalty killing clinic, and the game remained tied at two.
Once elite defenseman answered the other, and Nashville's Shea Weber scored with minutes left, from his own brand of booming slapshot.
Both teams tightened up defensively, and time in regulation expired.
The Nashville Predators won the game in the shootout.
- Despite taking hits with potential for injury today, Sidney Crosby is playing hockey at a level unmatched by nearly everyone right now. If Team Canada lives up to expectations and wins gold in Vancouver, it will be on the shoulders of Crosby as much as anyone.
- Ruslan Fedotenko was demoted to the fourth line for today's game. Combined with a 17 game scoring lapse, Fedotenko's days in Pittsburgh may be numbered.
- Jordan Staal and Craig Adams' play on the PK has kept the team's head above water, despite recent struggles.
- The Penguins will not resume play until Tuesday, March 2nd. Trades can resume on March 1st, with the trade deadline occurring at March 3rd.