I try not to get too into “crucial wins” but if the Pens had one game they absolutely needed to win this season, it was yesterday against the Bruins.
The Pens are tied for first in the East, with the Bruins trailing just one point behind them. The season is half over and every point counts more than ever.
The Bruins are a team the Penguins need to be able to beat. There is a strong possibility this is a team we will meet in the playoffs. On top of that, the B’s host one of the strongest bluelines in the league. If the Penguins can’t penetrate their d- then we’re screwed. The Pens have their own defensive issues, but being the highest scoring team has been their saving grace. Unfortunately, the past two seasons have shown that being a high scoring team doesn’t necessarily win you trips to the Stanley Cup Finals. Defense and strong goaltending are necessary.
While the Pens score a lot of goals, their lack of presence in front of the net (in BOTH ends) is their Achillies heel. They need to work that much harder maintaining leads because their games have consisted of a lot of goals.
The Bruins on the other hand, not only have solid offense, but they have the least amount of goals against in the entire league (Ottawa just a hair behind them). The Pens absolutely have to be able to pull out wins against teams that will stonewall them at every chance. They had an abundance of scoring opportunities last night, but to no avail for 54 minutes.
In addition to the necessity of being able to break through the barrier that is the Bruins defensive corps, the Pens need to to exactly what they did last night whenever necessary: stage the ultimate comeback. And the flightless birds have been on the opposite end of what happened last night not too long ago against the same team.
Back on January 10, 2011, the Pens blew a 2-0 lead with only 3:23 seconds left in regulation. In that time, the Bruins scored 4 goals. I remember I had left the room to change laundry loads because I was like “Pfffft! This game is over!” I came back upstairs and the Bruins had not only tied the game but had taken the lead!
One of the other important aspects of last night’s game was the stepping up of Brandon Sutter in a do-or-die situation. Sutter is pacing quite well goal wise for what is expected of someone of his talent. With a career season high of 21 goals, Sutter is on pace for roughly a 17-20 goal season. With the inconsistency of his linemates, and a greater opportunity to play with James Neal and Sidney Crosby in Evgeni Malkin’s absence, Sutter is critical to the team’s success.
Secondary scoring is necessary to make it deep into the playoffs. The third and fourth lines are blanking hard on the scoresheet. Sutter stepped up huge last night and hopefully will continue to produce points nightly for the duration of the season.
The Pens play Boston again on Sunday. Pulling out another win will show just how huge of a force the Pens can be when they put their noses to the ground.