Conklin records 2nd shutout in past 4 games
Ty Conklin makes one of his 35 saves against Florida's Brett McLean yesterday at Mellon Arena. Conklin went on to shut out the Panthers, 3-0, for the team's sixth consecutive victory.
Evgeni Malkin gets around Florida's Jozef Stumpel. Malkin scored his eighth goal in the past eight games.
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It's tough to misread the numbers, to take them as anything other than affirmation of the excellent work goalie Ty Conklin has been doing for the Penguins.
Victories in seven consecutive starts.
Shutouts in two of the past four games.
Thirty-five saves in a 3-0 victory against Florida at Mellon Arena yesterday.
But perhaps nothing illustrates how things have been going for him quite as well as a stop Conklin made on Anthony Stewart early in the second period.
Conklin was sitting -- not crouching or kneeling or sprawling -- in the crease when Stewart corralled a Brett McLean rebound and had a clear shot from the inner edge of the right circle. A quality scoring chance, to be sure, but one that yielded nothing but frustration for Florida.
"He shot it into me, more than anything," Conklin said. "I was just in the right place at the right time."
Ty Conklin is on a personal seven-game winning streak. His numbers in the streak:
Yeah, Conklin has been spending a lot of time there lately. Enough that it does not seem like a coincidence.
Press him hard enough -- which is to say, with roughly the force needed to transform a chunk of anthracite into a diamond -- and eventually Conklin will concede that "I feel like I'm playing pretty good," but that hardly does justice to the contribution he has made of late.
He was behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin on the depth chart when recalled from the Penguins' minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre after Fleury was injured a month ago, but has given the team its most extended stretch of solid goaltending this season.
"When we lost Marc-Andre, we [turned over] our fate to Dany Sabourin, and the result was not there," coach Michel Therrien said. "So we had to make some decisions, and we put Conklin in net. He did the job."
Beating Florida allowed the Penguins, who have won a season-high six games in a row and seven of the past eight, to finish the first half with a 23-16-2 record, which projects to 96 points over a full season. The Penguins had 105 in 2006-07, when they got the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"You always say you just want to make the playoffs, but obviously the better you do, the better you position yourself," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "So you don't have to play someone like Ottawa in the first round."
The victory hoisted the Penguins to within one point of Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey, pending the outcome of the Devils' game in Boston last night. Of course, the Penguins also realize they are only a handful of points ahead of teams that are not in the top eight in the East.
"You lose three in a row, you might be out of the playoffs," left winger Ryan Malone said. "You can't really take a game off right now."
That wasn't a danger yesterday, when the Penguins took control early and never let go.
"They outworked us and they were more determined," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "They wanted the puck more than we did."
Tyler Kennedy got Conklin the only goal he needed at 4:26 of the first period, when Malone, who had the puck behind the Florida net and was moving toward the right corner, slid a pass to him in the slot.
"I gave him a little holler," Kennedy said. "And he saw me, so I knew it was coming."
The puck was on Kennedy's stick for a nanosecond -- maybe less -- before he threw it past Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun. It was his eighth goal, including a team-high four winners, in 28 games since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre.
In that time, Kennedy has established himself as an integral part of this team, a guy who clearly belongs at this level.
"I think I'm getting a little more confident every game," he said.
So, it appears, is Evgeni Malkin, who followed Kennedy's goal by scoring on a power play at 6:17, his 19th of the season and eighth in the past eight games. That was the last goal until Sidney Crosby gave the Penguins their margin of victory with his 17th at 17:19 of the third.
And so the Penguins have hit the midpoint of the season on a roll. How long it can continue, and just how far it will take them, remains to be seen.
"We're just going to play one game at a time, and try to win as many as we can," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "Then see where we're going to end up."
First Published January 6, 2008 12:21 am