Staal bounces back
The Penguins' Maxime Talbot scores a goal on Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk.
The Penguins' Michael Rupp takes down Edmonton's Jeff Petry,
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Jordan Staal did not need to be told how poorly he played in the Penguins' loss Saturday to Montreal.
He knew all too well that he had been on the ice for two Canadiens goals, and that his overall performance might have been his worst of 2010-11.
So it really didn't matter much that general manager Ray Shero, apparently unaware that he was speaking on the record, told the Edmonton Journal that Staal had a "horrible" game against Montreal.
For while Staal didn't learn of Shero's assessment until after the Penguins' 5-1 victory against Edmonton Sunday at Consol Energy Center, he didn't dispute its substance, either.
"I never heard about [Shero's criticism]," Staal said. "I'm glad I didn't. But I knew I did [play poorly]."
Shero didn't witness Staal's performance against the Oilers, having traveled for Florida for the general managers meetings that begin today, but offered a much more favorable review via text message.
As he should have, for there was much to like about what Staal did. He made the Penguins' first goal possible with an excellent forecheck, scored their third by lunging into the crease and was a positive factor all over the ice.
"He was a stalwart force in a lot of ways," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Even better, Staal didn't suffer through a wretched afternoon that was punctuated by being whacked in the face with a stick, as he had been when Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn inadvertently drove his blade into Staal's right cheek late in the third period Saturday.
The damage was superficial, though, and didn't affect the way Staal played Sunday. Too bad for the Oilers.
The victory was the Penguins' third in four games, and lifted them to within three points of first-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have two games in hand.
As for the Oilers, there are a few pretty good reasons they are in 30th place in the overall standings. Most of their best players are young, and they're playing without a number of key individuals because of injuries.
And then there's the best reason of all: Edmonton is in 30th place because there isn't a 31st.
That was apparent in the opening period, when the Oilers managed just one shot on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, despite having a five-on-three power play for 1 minute, 46 seconds.
"That [two-man disadvantage] was huge for us," Penguins forward Max Talbot said.
Especially when, just 34 seconds after they returned to even strength, Chris Kunitz scored the goal that put the Penguins in front to stay.
"To go from a situation where you might give one up to [Kunitz] getting one right after that obviously is a big swing," forward Craig Adams said.
Fleury, whose greatest accomplishment during the first period might have been resisting the temptation to take a nap in the crease, faced five times as many shots in the first two minutes of the second period than he had in all of the first.
Stopped them all, too, which was significant because he had been pulled from the Montreal game after allowing three goals on 12 shots. Never mind that at least two of those could be traced to breakdowns in front of him.
"There are going to be some tough ones, some bad nights," Fleury said. "You have to be able to put them behind you as fast as possible, forget about it and just move on to the next game."
That was true of the entire team, whose showing against Montreal had ranked among the Penguins' worst of the season. Having one such hiccup was disappointing; doing it again would have been downright disturbing.
"We needed a rebound game," Bylsma said. "And [Staal] led the way."
At least once, he did it by diving into his work. Literally.
After Kunitz and Talbot had given the Penguins a 2-0 lead, Staal threw himself into the crease to make sure that a Tyler Kennedy shot got across the goal line at 18:56 of the second.
"It was trickling in," Staal said, "but it was too close to let it go."
Staal's goal provided some valuable insurance and, after Ryan Jones had spoiled Fleury's shutout bid 71 seconds into the final period, Zbynek Michalek and Kunitz countered for the Penguins.
While beating up on the Oilers won't go down as one of the highlights of their season, doing it so soon after the Montreal game made that debacle a lot easier to forger.
"We're lucky we played today," Adams said. "And played a lot better."
The general manager couldn't have said it any better.
First Published March 14, 2011 12:00 am