Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary celebrate one of the former's three goals Sunday against the Panthers. (Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette)
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Perhaps the most encouraging thing to come out of the Penguins’ 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday at PPG Paints Arena was not Sidney Crosby’s goal-scoring prowess, although that was impressive.
Nor was it Marc-Andre Fleury stopping 21 shots to pick up his first shutout of the season or Phil Kessel playing basketball with Patric Hornqvist by alley-ooping a puck to him from behind the cage.
If I’m a Penguins fan, I’m most encouraged by the number of shots (21) and attempted shots (47) the Penguins allowed to what’s actually a pretty decent offensive team.
The shots-against total is their third-best this season, and it represents a pretty sizable step in the right direction for the Penguins’ defensive effort.
They kept good gaps, covered appropriately and didn’t afford a ton of odd-man rushes. Being sound defensively has been a strength, at times, but not enough as anyone would like.
Sunday was different.
“The main thing that we did was limit their scoring chances,” Fleury said. “I think that’s something that, in the past few weeks, we’ve been giving up a few more than usual. Tonight was great.”
Here’s another thing: The Penguins held the Panthers off the scoreboard on four power plays, important given how wobbly the Penguins’ penalty kill has been lately.
Ian Cole logged 5:09 and blocked three shots, a slow night at the office the way he’s been going. (Sarcasm)
Brian Dumoulin chipped in with 4:49, Chris Kunitz 4:16 and Nick Bonino 4:15.
But it wasn’t just the PK. Five-on-five, especially after the first period, the Penguins allowed the Panthers next to nothing.
It’s an effort they would be wise to replicate a couple times over.
“We’ve got to become a team that’s stingier defensively,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought we did a much better job tonight, against a pretty good offensive team. Florida’s a team that is not easy to play against down low. They’ve got big forwards that can really handle the puck and protect the puck extremely well. I thought our guys did a real good job in the defensive zone especially.”
Team notes and nuggets
• With a win in Buffalo on Tuesday, the Penguins can clinch a postseason berth.
• The Penguins now have 99 points. That’s one fewer than Columbus and Washington atop the NHL’s overall standings. Should be a wild, wild finish.
• Penguins are 7-2-1 in March. One of those losses — Philly — should have an asterisk.
• Penguins have 29 home wins. They have five left. Three would equal the franchise record home wins in a season. Four would break it.
• Sunday’s win brought the Penguins’ record over their past nine against the Panthers to 7-0-2.
Player notes and nuggets
• Crosby has 40-40—80 on the season. He assumed the lead of the NHL goal-scoring race while tying Edmonton’s Connor McDavid in points.
• This is Crosby’s second 40-goal season. He scored 51 in 2009-10. He’s one of seven Penguins players with multiple 40-goal seasons.
• Jake Guentzel leads all rookies with 11 points (four goals) in March.
• Conor Sheary has 3-9–12 in nine games since returning from his upper body injury.
• Patric Hornqvist appears to be heating up. His goal was his 18th, and he has points in three consecutive games.
Jason Mackey: email@example.com and Twitter @JMackeyPG.
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