Center Jordan Staal, who had a disappointing sophomore season and was off to a lackluster start in 2008-09, turned in his strongest performance in quite a while in the Penguins' 4-3 shootout victory on Long Island, N.Y., Saturday.
The Penguins were trailing, 3-1, late in the second period when Staal pulled in a lead pass from Evgeni Malkin, fought off New York Islanders defenseman Bruno Gervais and beat goalie Joey MacDonald from close range for the goal that sparked the Penguins' comeback.
That goal -- Staal's second of the season and first that actually got past a goaltender -- was his most obvious contribution, but hardly his only one. He was solid in his own zone, did some quality penalty killing and won 11 of 21 faceoffs, including a defensive-zone draw in the closing seconds of overtime.
Fact is, Staal was visible pretty much every time he went over the boards and a lot of things happened -- virtually all of them good -- when he was on the ice.
"He worked really hard, he was moving his feet, he was protecting the puck really well down low," coach Michel Therrien said. "It certainly was his best game."
Sabourin steps in and up
Penguins goalie Dany Sabourin made 22 saves in regulation and overtime Saturday, then added three more during the shootout that made the Penguins' third consecutive victory possible.
Sabourin is 2-1 this season, with both victories coming in shootouts, and has rewarded Therrien's confidence in him with consistently solid play.
He hasn't been flawless -- Sabourin would, for example, almost certainly like to have another chance to stop Doug Weight's shot that opened the scoring at Nassau Coliseum Saturday -- but he has been a reliable fill-in for No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"He's playing well," Therrien said. "I'm not surprised. Both of our goalies are playing really well."
Fleury's profile rose dramatically with his superb performance the stretch drive and playoffs in the spring, and he apparently made an impression on people outside of traditional hockey circles.
Witness the following reference by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow in a piece that ran a few days before the presidential election, discussing the likelihood that Barack Obama would win while acknowledging that, at least in theory, a John McCain victory could not be entirely ruled out:
"Of course, anything could happen. There are three days left. McCain could still win. And, a drunk man wearing a blindfold could get a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury."
Although Chris Minard didn't have much of an impact during a two-game cameo with the Penguins in the first weekend of this month -- the only statistic he recorded in 10 minutes, 37 seconds of ice time in their 6-3 victory in St. Louis was three shots on goal -- he has been downright dominant with their farm team in Wilkes-Barre.
Minard is the No. 2 scorer in the American Hockey League, with 13 goals and seven assists in 11 games. His totals include a hat trick in a 4-3 victory at Houston last Sunday, when Minard flew from St. Louis to Texas the day of the game.
That was Minard's third hat trick with the Baby Penguins, tying Michel Ouellet's franchise record.
His prolific output has somewhat overshadowed strong production from linemate Jeff Taffe, who has nine goals and nine assists in 11 games since being demoted by the Penguins a month ago.
The Penguins will hold their 16 th annual drive to benefit the U.S. Marine Corps' "Toys for Tots" program at home games Nov. 22 and 29.
Donations, either an unopened new toy or cash, will be accepted at Gates 1, 3 and 10 from an hour before game time and until the middle of the first period at both games.
Fans making a donation will be eligible to win autographed memorabilia.