Penguins 5, Senators 2: Penguins Stick It To JUDAS Gonchar

Has a player ever left the Penguins on more amicable terms than Sergei Gonchar? He and the Penguins mutually agreed to part ways after five productive seasons and a Stanley Cup, then he signed with a conference nonrival for an excellent salary, and the Penguins welcomed him back with a highlight reel at Consol, a standing ovation from the fans, and Penguin players tapping their sticks on their boards. I was half expecting Matt Cooke to line Gonchar up for a blind-side hit, then at the last second yell “SURPRISE!” and flip lights on and the rest of the Penguins would all be gathered in the conference room with party hats and a “55” cake and everyone would hug and Gonchar would give an awkward thirty second speech then they’d eat and slowly disperse back to work.

That didn’t exactly happen. What did happen, though, was a third straight Penguins victory, keyed off a 3-0 Penguin lead after a wide-open First Period. The Pens managed 17 shots in the First and allowed 12, but still emerged up three goals after a slick Mike Comrie feed to Mark Letestu for his team-leading fourth goal, a bubble hockey-esque bounce off the end boards that Crosby hand-eye-coordinated behind Brian Elliot, and a faceoff that Ottawa cleanly won in their own defensive zone that they couldn’t corral, ended up on net, and was knocked in on the rebound by a fully outstretched diving Malkin.

Brent Johnson was stellar again, stopping 32 of 34 Ottawa shots including a number of odd-man rushes in the first, some lengthy stretches of Ottawa cycling in the second, and a clean Mike Fisher breakaway in the third that he poke-checked away to keep the game 5-2. Johnson has now started four games and won all four (notching all four of the Pens’ wins so far), and while Fleury will certainly end up back in net either Thursday or Saturday, it’s clear that Johnson’s performance thusfar has forced Dan Bylsma to balance his two goaltenders’ playing time a lot differently now than he would’ve two weeks ago.

Also, if I were Cory Clouston, which would be weird for a number of reasons, I’d have switched goalies for the second period; backup Robin Lehner had never started an NHL game, but it clearly wasn’t Elliott’s night, and Lehner ended up having to come in and play half the game anyway when Ottawa was in too big a hole to come back. I said this at the time, too, though it’s easy for me to feel justified since I’m writing about it in hindsight on my bed while still in the towel from the shower I took like an hour ago (I am an adult!)

The other main story from this game — besides the Pens’ power play, which looked absolutely clueless on its first attempt and absolutely unstoppable on its next two — was the continued emergence of Mark Letestu, who now has 4 goals and 3 assists so far this season despite playing mostly on the Pens’ #3 line with some shifts on the second line and the second power play. I was hugely in favor of Letestu making the team before preseason started (I’ll show you my GChat records, I swear — just ignore the parts where I keep talking about Marek Svatos), and while the Staal and Asham injuries obviously weren’t ideal, they did spare Ray Shero the decision to either send Letestu to Wilkes-Barre (which would’ve been highly unfortunate) or either bench or release a player on an NHL contract (likely Craig Adams or Eric Godard). I felt vindicated when Letestu shined in the preseason, but even I couldn’t have foreseen him getting off to this good of a start offensively; the Pens are really gonna be sitting pretty when he keeps up his 46-goal pace.

Eh, maybe not. But he’s at least been good enough to unseat Dupuis as the team’s token “fans make ‘UUUUUUUUUU!!!!’ noise whenever he scores,” right?

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