Red-hot Penguins extend streak to 14-0-2
By Karen Price
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Three weeks is a long time to go without playing a game in the NHL, especially for a goaltender.
There's the risk that the all-important sense of timing will erode with the lack of action, that game shape will be gone or that the mental sharpness required to win just won't be there when needed.
But Penguins backup Jocelyn Thibault exhibited none of those problems Sunday in his first game since Jan. 27, making 29 saves in a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals to keep the Penguins' streak alive at 14-0-2.
"I don't play a lot so I'm always happy when I get a chance," said Thibault, who's now 3-5-2 on the season. "It was nice to get a win here at home. It does a lot for my confidence. It's good to participate in the winning streak. It's nice to do your share."
Mark Recchi, Evgeni Malkin and Maxime Talbot scored to bring the Penguins' record to 32-17-9 and pull back within five points of the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils, who won the night before.
The afternoon game was decidedly down-tempo and reminiscent of the last time the two teams met at Mellon Arena earlier this month. But just as life seemed to be escaping sold-out Mellon Arena by the minute, Malkin brought it thundering back when he scored late in the second period to make it 2-1.
The Penguins had been battling against the Capitals' trap all game long, resulting in little more than a series of broken plays and passes. Their lone goal to that point was a power-play tally on a redirection by Recchi five minutes into the game, a goal that was answered a minute later by the Capitals' Jeff Schultz after his shot redirected off Richard Zednik to tie it, 1-1.
Then in the final two minutes of the second period, Michel Ouellet won a battle along the boards, got the puck to Malkin and he sent it back to Sergei Gonchar on the point. Malkin skated back down low, to the bottom of the circle to goaltender Brent Johnson's left.
Gonchar fed the puck back, and as Johnson dropped, Malkin's one-timer from a seemingly impossible angle rocketed up and under the crossbar. It was his team-leading 29th goal of the season.
Then just 1:10 into the third, Talbot scored his ninth of the year with a one-timer from the slot to give the Penguins breathing room.
Thibault admitted he got lucky in the third when 30-goal scorer Alexander Semin hit the crossbar on a penalty shot with six minutes left in the game to keep the score 3-1.
"I was nowhere near that puck," Thibault said. "He was coming on my glove side and usually I'm pretty good at poke-checking players when they try to come across. I totally missed him. I don't know if I surprised him by trying to poke him, but I was so happy it didn't go in."
Semin did go on to score with 44 seconds left in the game to make it 3-2, but Thibault held off the pressure after that for the win.
It was the Penguins' sixth win in a row, equaling a season-high set Jan. 20-Feb. 3. Only one overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 4 separates the two stretches. It also was their fifth one-goal game in a row.
"(The Capitals) came here and there was not a lot of space on the ice," coach Michel Therrien said. "It was a game with a lot of checking, and we fought through adversity. I really liked the way that we were able to compose ourselves."