Old lines, new lines form a Penguins win



Dan Bylsma jig-sawed a new batch of forward combinations Friday, and likely figured the Penguins would have to count on one of them to generate most of their offense.

Not that relying on a unit with Sidney Crosby between Chris Kunitz and James Neal would constitute a major hardship for most NHL clubs.

And make no mistake, those guys figured prominently in the Penguins' 5-2 victory Friday night against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.

Kunitz had two goals and an assist. Crosby scored one goal and set up two others. Neal picked up an assist.

But it was a hybrid group that gave the Penguins control of the game and produced the goal that stood up as the winner.

Bylsma paired Jussi Jokinen with Brian Gibbons and played Joe Vitale or Brandon Sutter between them. He was rewarded with a pair of goals by Jokinen, who hadn't scored in the previous 14 games.

"That line especially really got us started," Crosby said. "They provided a lot of energy and capitalized on some good chances early on."

Crosby's line converted on several opportunities, as well, but unlike the Jokinen-Vitale/Sutter-Gibbons line, actually has been together every now and then.

Jokinen said he and Gibbons had played, perhaps, a game and a half together earlier in the season.

There was no lack of familiarity evident, though, as both seemed to have a good sense of where the other guy would be. And how best to get the puck to him.

"You know everyone's games and where their strengths and weaknesses are," Gibbons said. "You just try to play to that.

"Tonight, [Jokinen] did a good job of finding holes in the defense. I just tried to get him the puck, and he did a good job of finishing."

The victory Jokinen's goals helped to make possible was the Penguins' 11th in a row at home, matching the second-longest such streak in franchise history.

Even more impressive is that they haven't trailed on home ice for 437 minutes, 19 seconds.

Of course, where the Penguins (30-12-1) play hasn't been much of an issue this season; they have won 10 of their past 12 games overall and 15 of the past 18.

Winger Taylor Pyatt, claimed off waivers from the Rangers Thursday, skated on the third line and logged 11 minutes, 44 seconds of ice time, all at even strength.

"I felt pretty comfortable as the game went on," he said. "I felt pretty good. I just want to continue to build, and find a role on this team."

Kunitz put the Penguins in front to stay with a power-play goal at 13:09 of the opening period, as he rapped in a Crosby feed from the edge of the crease.

That marked the 10th consecutive home game in which the Penguins got the first goal, one shy of the franchise record.

Crosby's assist -- he kicked the puck to Kunitz -- was one of the most memorable of the 39 he has accumulated this season, although Crosby suggested it was somewhat inadvertent.

"I was trying to kick it to my stick and it ended up going to him off of his foot," he said.

There was nothing fluky, however, about the next two goals.

Gibbons shook loose from New York defenseman Marc Staal behind the goal line and slid a pass to Jokinen, who beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from between the right circle and the crease at 18:40 of the first.

Sixty-nine seconds into the second, Gibbons carried the puck down the left side, then set up Jokinen for a backhander from the inner edge of the right circle to make it 3-0.

"It's always been one of my strengths, that I can get open in those soft areas," Jokinen said. "And he was able to find me."

Crosby stuck a backhander under the crossbar from the right hash at 18:29 of the second for his first goal in 13 games against the Rangers and, after Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh of New York beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the third, Kunitz snuffed the Rangers' comeback by converting a Crosby set-up at 12:54 to close the scoring.

"There's some pressure on that line, probably, to produce," Gibbons said.

"Game-in and game-out, they do that."

And for at least one game, so did another.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published January 3, 2014 9:44 PM

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