High-flying Pens host defensively sound Wild
PITTSBURGH — Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau was more than understated when he assessed the current play of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the reigning Stanley Cup champion and the Wild's opponent Thursday night.
“Yeah, they're OK,” Boudreau said Wednesday, the last day of a four-day break for Minnesota.
Right now, the Penguins (9-2-2) are more than OK — they've gained a point in seven straight games (6-0-1) and they're coming off a 4-3 win Tuesday over the very young and very fast Edmonton Oilers, who couldn't hold an early 3-1 lead.
That's been a trend for the Penguins, who've rallied to win four times recently despite being down by multiple goals.
As usual, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was right in the middle of it, despite being held without a point for the first time this season. Crosby's dangerous speed game allowed the Penguins to catch up to the fast-starting Oilers, and Boudreau knows that could mean trouble for the Wild, even though they're currently the NHL's top defensive team.
Before losing their last two games, 2-1 to Buffalo and 1-0 to Colorado, the Wild won three straight games, all by shutout.
“He's the best player in the world,” Boudreau said of Crosby. “And the best player in the world in any sport (is a challenge) … the way he's playing right now, he's hard to handle.
“But they have a lot of other players,” he said, mentioning Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz. “There's a reason why they won the Cup.”
It's also a reason why there's been no Stanley Cup letdown for the Penguins. Their Crosby-led arsenal of scorers produced nine goals in the last two games, and they look comfortable regardless of whether Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray (3-0) or former starter Marc-Andre Fleury (6-2) is in net. Murray started the last two games.”
“He made timely saves for us, and you look around the league, and that's what separates winning from losing,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Murray making a succession of key saves in the third period Tuesday. “I thought he was real solid in the third period.”
And Boudreau didn't even mention forward Conor Sheary, the breakout rookie of a season ago who scored their first and last goals against Edmonton, including the game-winner in the final two minutes.
The challenge for Crosby on Thursday might be that there's no immediate head-to-head young star matchup for him. On Tuesday, it was 2015 No. 1 draft pick Connor McDavid, who was more than impressive by setting up three speed-driven goals — even if it was Crosby who got the win.
On Saturday, it will be the Toronto Maple Leafs and 2016 No. 1 pick Auston Matthews, who, like McDavid earlier in the week, is certain to get tossed a ton of questions about that it will be like to oppose Crosby for the first time.
“You get up for games like that,” Crosby said after the Oilers game.
The Wild and Penguins haven't played for 11 months. The Penguins won both games last season, including a 3-1 road win on Dec. 26 that was their fourth in a row over Minnesota.