PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Jussi Jokinen enjoyed his four-plus seasons in Carolina and understood when the rebuilding Hurricanes sent him to Pittsburgh last spring as part of a salary dump.
Imagine the damage he might have done on Tuesday night if he was angry.
Jokinen poured in three goals for his first hat trick in nearly six years and the Penguins remained unbeaten with a 5-2 win.
“There’s always extra motivation when you play against your former team,” Jokinen said. “I could have had five goals tonight. I hit the post and the crossbar too.”
Not quite, but his hat trick was more than enough to push the Penguins to their best start since the 1994-95 team won its first seven games.
“It’s so much fun,” Jokinen said. “I’m just trying to enjoy every moment and work. I’m working hard in practice and games. Playing with (Evgeni Malkin) helps too, we have great chemistry.”
Less than two minutes after Carolina’s Nathan Gerbe tied the game at 2-all 3:13 into the third period, Jokinen put Pittsburgh in front to stay when he streaked down the left wing, took a pass from Malkin and threaded a wrist shot over the shoulder of Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.
Ward responded with a flurry of brilliant saves during extended pressure by Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby’s line. Any momentum Ward’s gymnastics provided didn’t last. Seconds after belly flopping to stop Pascal Dupuis on the doorstep, Ward failed to cover a loose puck off a face-off and Tanner Glass pounced on it to make it 4-2. Jokinen then finished off the Hurricanes with his second power-play goal of the night and first hat trick since he scored four for the Dallas Stars on Nov. 16, 2007.
“Pittsburgh’s a good hockey team and they’re going to keep coming and they pressed and they didn’t capitalize there, but they stayed with it and get that goal,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “We would have liked to have used it to our advantage, not theirs, so it kind of backfired unfortunately.”
Paul Martin also scored for Pittsburgh, while Crosby picked up his first two assists of the season. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots for the Penguins, who have not trailed through three games. Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 12-3 heading into a two-game road-swing through Florida starting Friday.
“I think for us the biggest thing is our defensive play,” Glass said. “We’re able to shut teams down and not give them too much.”
Eric Staal also scored for the Hurricanes and Cam Ward made 32 saves, but Carolina crumbled in the final 15 minutes.
“Everybody needed to be stronger tonight than they were,” Staal said. “We gave too much space for some of their skill players. You don’t want to give time. You give time they’ve got players who can make plays and they did that.”
The Penguins brought in Jokinen last March, hoping the talented winger would help them lift the Stanley Cup. The Hurricanes even agreed to pay $900,000 of the $3 million Jokinen is due this year just to get him out of town.
While Jokinen and Pittsburgh failed to win a championship, he showed an ability to blend in with Penguins stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and now has 10 goals in in 13 regular-season games since the trade.
“He’s got an ability to play off players and read off them and it showed,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “He was excellent.”
The Penguins came in 0 for 3 on the season on the power play before breaking through 14:17 into the first period. With Carolina’s Jay Harrison off for tripping, Pittsburgh took the lead when Crosby tried a centring pass that deflected off Staal and right to Jokinen, who collected the puck with his skate and kicked it to his stick. His backhand shot slid past Ward and put the Penguins in front.
Pittsburgh made it 2-0 1:04 into the second when a sliding Martin took a Brooks Orpik shot off the end boards and threw it by a badly out of position Ward.
Staal sliced the lead in half with an acrobatic deflection in which he managed to get his stick on Justin Faulk’s pass despite getting checked to the ice by Orpik. Carolina’s surge pulled them even early in the third on Gerbe’s goal but the Hurricanes couldn’t sustain it.
NOTES: Penguins F James Neal missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Neal aggravated a pre-existing problem during Pittsburgh’s season opener against New Jersey last week. Bylsma said Neal is more “week to week” than “day to day.” … Carolina plays at Washington on Thursday in the franchise’s 1,200th game since relocating from Hartford in 1997.
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