Turns out that when Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc Andre Fleury come to play, the Pittsburgh Penguins are tough to beat. The Thrashers probably aren't a playoff team, but they were rested, the Pens always have a target on their back, and we had to travel Atlanta immediately after the Friday night game. Just the kind of situation that calls for leaders to lead and a spectacular performance from a battle-tested goalie.
- Nobody is pronouncing Fleury all the way back until he puts a solid quarter of season together, but he was last night's number one star. His 31 saves on 33 shots won this game, period. The first goal of the game, a seeing eye wrister from the blueline by Bret Sopel, came courtesy of Zybnek Michalek, who could not have done a more effective job of completely blocking Fleury's vision. [We're still on board with the Z-Mickle signing, but he's standing out this week for the wrong reasons.] After that, Atlanta surged, and Fleury stood tall. His only misplay of the night came on the second Thrashers' goal, when Niclas Bergfors scored, wait for it, on a weak shot off a pass from behind the net that somehow dribbled through Fleury's pads. Happens a lot. But Fleury saved the Pens' bacon tonight, and that's all there is to it.
- Sid and Geno had one of those games where you can almost see them levitating above the ice, literally raising themselves above the other skaters. Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay probably put it best: "Malkin is a monster, and Crosby is as strong on the puck as there is."
- The most important thing aside from getting a strong game out of Fleury was actually getting a power play goal. I don't want to count how many opportunities the Pens' went between man-advantage goals. But suffice to stay I had started leaving the room instead of watching power plays to do other, more desirable things, like pricking myself in the leg with Mrs. Artistry's sewing needles. At least that made me feel alive.
- By contrast, the Pens' penalty kill has been phenomenal. They are 6th in league on the kill, and their performance on the road is better than that. Home teams have had 44 power plays against the visiting Pens, and they've only scored 3 times. That's exceptional. This is without Jordan Staal.
- Finesse's post about the Penguins all of a sudden turning into the Oakland Raiders is holding up this weekend. No problem with Mike Rupp trying to get the blood flowing by pounding on Chris Thorburn's helmet (although that seemed like a bad strategy), Matt Cooke's subsequent attempt to go with Evander Kane showed a remarkable lack of discipline. We were down 1-0 at that point, Kane saw no reason to fight, but Cooke threw his body into Kane anyway and took an interference penalty. Stupid move, on two levels. Cooke should know 1) to keep his eye on the scoreboard; and 2) to stay as far away from Evander Kane as possible.
- Everybody wondered what Atlanta was thinking moving Big Buff back to the blueline after his stellar performance at wing in Chicago's Stanley Cup run. Now we understand. What a force.
- Hey, guess who's leading the league in scoring?
My cousin, Artistry's Cousin, asked me to come with him to Verizon Center this afternoon to see more of Big Buff as Atlanta visits the Capitals. My instinct was not to go. It's way too loud, there will be like 17,000 Capitals' fans there, Ted Leonsis will probably be in attendance, and I'll have to endure Scarlet Caps videos on the jumbotron. Wait, and I have to watch the Atlanta Thrashers twice in 24 hours. Mrs. Artistry said, "Think of it just as time spent hanging out with your cousin." OK. But he will never know how much I've sacrificed for him.