The big guns of the Pittsburgh Penguins came to the game loaded with ammunition and when all was said and done they skated away with an 8-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
It was the home debut in Sidney Crosby's return to the NHL, and the Pens captain did not disappoint as he earned four assists, while James Neal scored three and assisted on another. Leading the way for the Penguin though, as he has all season long, was the league's scoring leader Evgeni Malkin who had two goals and three assists for a five point night.
Tyler Kennedy also had two goals for Pittsburgh while Bryan Little had two for the Jets, giving him 21 on the year. Jim Slater and Tim Stapleton had the other Jets goals.
The Penguins opened the scoring but the Slater goal 1:31 later tied it, and nine minutes later a power play goal by Little had the Jets in front. Little's first came on a double minor to Malkin, so the Jets remained on the power play.
But shortly after Little's goal came a momentum changing sequence of events. First, Brad Thiessen robbed Evander Kane on a cross-crease bang-bang play, then a split second before the penalty expired the puck was sent down the ice and as Toby Enstrom raced back on what was close to being an icing call, he was chased by Malkin, who forced a turnover which resulted in an Enstrom penalty, and that would lead to the tying goal.
The Penguins took the lead early in the second but again the Jets responded, Little with his second of the night on a nice set up by Andrew Ladd. The shootout continued with the Penguins taking a 5-3 lead, but good work by Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell lead to Stapleton's goal to pull the Jets to within one. But that is as close as the Jets would get.
It's not hard to see why many in the hockey world feel that if the Penguins stay healthy, they have to be considered strong contenders for the Stanley Cup.
Some numbers from the game: Kane had seven shots on goal, Ladd five, Tanner Glass had nine hits, Slater won 12 of 23 face-offs.
Next up for the Jets is their biggest game of the year. They play in Washington Friday in what is a must win, and a must win in regulation. (TSN Jets, TSN 1290)
The feeling in the Jets dressing room post game was that the game was too wide open when playing a team that is so offensively gifted. "Their depth is their strength," said Captain Andrew Ladd. "Our first period was good, then a few too many turnovers."
Coach Claude Noel knew his team was up against one of the league's best. "With the skill level they have it was not an easy task. It was tough to defend. Adding Crosby to the lineup didn't help us. They are tough to handle one on one with their size and experience. Our objective was to check, did we do it, no, but they are a very skilled team."
Ondrej Pavelec was pulled in the second period but not because he was playing poorly. "Our goaltending was fine," said Coach Noel.
It was the fourth and final meeting of the season between the two teams, but because of his injuries, the first that Crosby has played against Winnipeg.
Ben Maxwell was up from St. John's with Nik Antropov out with a lower body injury. Antropov is not on the trip. Eric Fehr is, despite missing the last two games and his status for Friday remains uncertain. His is an upper body issue.