When Max Talbot scored shorthanded to put the Penguins up 2-0 in the second period last night, the question became whether they possessed the killer instinct to put one of the better teams in the league away. Or, as Bob Errey put it after Talbot's goal, they had to "keep their foot on the snake." I was still processing Errey's metaphor - a pretty good one, actually - when Aron Asham and Evgeni Malkin simultaneously threw themselves, and the puck, into Roberto Luongo's net for a third goal, dropping a flying elbow on the snake. Then, after a defensive lapse leading to a Dan Hamhuis goal, Marc-Andre Fleury picked the snake off the ground, whispered softly in its ear, and calmly released it back into the wild. Fleury stopped 29 of 30 Canuck shots, many of them high quality scoring chances, and his rebound control was exceptional. That's four consecutive quality starts for Fleury, and no has even thought about Brent Johnson this week. "Everyone looks better when you get competent goaltending and aren't worried about untimely soft goals all game," GTOG co-founder Finesse said this morning.
- This was the money quote after the game. Daniel Sedin on the Penguins: "This is a team I think we should beat," he said. "They give up a lot of chances, and we didn't capitalize. We need to be better. That's the bottom line." I have no problem with Sedin being confident in his team. If something like this bothers you, it's probably because you think what he said is true. But I saw something different last night. I saw a Canucks defense that coughed up the puck repeatedly in the first period, and it looked to me like it was the Penguins who couldn't capitalize. And that's the source of unceasing frustration for Penguins' fans: except for Sidney Crosby, the team has no finish. Evgeni Malkin, you're not exempt from this particular criticism. Geno leads the league in shots, and he only has 7 goals in 20 games. Does the lack of goal-scoring touch, particularly on the wings, mean the Pens can't contend this year?
- No. Remember what GTOG special correspondent Eloquence identified as the keys to the Penguins' season in our NHL Preview? Marc-Andre Fleury and the power play. Fleury is starting to re-emerge. Check. The power play? It's clicking at 12.8%. That's real bad. 25th in the league bad. 12 goals in 20 games despite having more opportunities than anybody else in the league bad. Despite this, the Penguins are tied for 7th in the league in goals-per-game. If this team can score even one power play goal per game, just one, if they can just be average, can anybody really make an argument that they don't have enough scoring to win? Because currently, that kind of output would make them the fourth highest scoring team in hockey. Just by virtue of having a completely pedestrian power play. Putting Paul Martin on the number one power play, as GTOG has been clamoring for Dan Bylsma to do from Day 1, is a good start.
- Sidney Crosby made himself great on breakaways. At the start of his career, he was pretty good in games, but terrible in the shootout. Now he's just the best there is. Ask his Olympic coach, Mike Babcock. It would have been gratifying to see Crosby swoop in free on Roberto Luongo after jumping out of the penalty box last night, but FSN Pittsburgh made the snap decision to use a camera angle showing only Sid's knees and the side of his sweater as he scored the first goal of the game. So we had to wait for the replay. Somebody needs to tell FSN producers that they don't get points for creativity.
- Dan Hamhuis must have made the following note to self when he was trying, and failing, to stay with Sid behind the Canucks' net in the first period: "I'm glad I didn't sign with the Flyers." Do you think Sid was sending a message to last year's Hart Trophy winner, Henrik Sedin?
- Between the bright red scar and the fu manchu, Max Talbot looks like your worst nightmare right now. Don't know where he's been, bur it's good to have him back.
- The Malkin, Asham, Cooke line has some undeniable chemistry, although they may be getting carried away with the cross-ice passes. Give it to Geno and go to the net, boys.
- Finesse liked Chris Kunitz's game last night and notes that Zybnek Michalek looked more comfortable.
- Even though Mark Letestu's scoring has, predictably, fallen off, I keep seeing things to like about his game. A small but meaningful play at the end of the second: Instead of forcing the puck to Malkin, who was waiting at the blueline at the end of his shift, Letestu challenged the Vancouver defenseman one-on-one and took the puck to the net. He knows how to play the game.
The Pens caught Vancouver at the perfect time - the end of a long road trip. But that's a very good team. Big win. LGP.