If you didn't think the Bruins were going to win this game when Chara scored to make it 2-1 with three-and-a-half minutes to go, then you haven't been a hockey fan for very long. It's a sport of momentum, and despite the Pens having played one of their better games of the season for the first 50 minutes, the momentum started slowly tipping toward the Bruins. When Chara's shot knuckled in, you could feel the flood gates about to open. There was going to be no decimation of Boston tonight.
It was our mantra during the long winning streak and it will continue to be our mantra now - the season is 82 games long, and you can never get too high or too low. The Pens are in a mini-funk right now, but they will get out of it. The Pens actually played one of their better games of the season early, showing that they are one of the fastest and most relentless forechecking teams in the league. The one key ingredient missing, aside from the obvious guy, is Finish. Malkin is turning people inside out and not burying it. Staal is not even getting himself chances to bury. Chris Kunitz is playing the best hockey of his career, but without Sid to set him up on the doorstep, he's not finishing his own chances. And the list goes on...
Some additional thoughts
- I just said not to be concerned about any of this, but allow me for a moment to express an area of concern. As we made clear, the Pens hot streak in December was crafted on the backs of some of the lesser-lights of the NHL. Coincidently or not, the end of the Pens win streak has coincided with a more difficult strength of schedule. Since the end of the streak, the Pens have lost to Philly, Rangers, Islanders, Senators, Capitals, Canadiens, Wild, Bruins; the Pens have defeated Phoenix, Florida, Capitals, Atlanta, Tampa. That's a 5-6-2 record against a tougher slate of competition. The next three games are against Montreal, Boston, and Detroit. The point? Things could get a little worse before they get better.
- Three Pens who had great games last night, at least for most of it -- Chris Conner, Paul Martin, and Chris Kunitz. Conner was the most notable player on the ice for either team. Paul Martin made some real #1 defenseman-level plays (and some not #1 defenseman level plays). And Chris Kunitz is actually playing with the talent of...gulp...a first-line winger.
- We spend the first 25 games of the season calling for Paul Martin to replace Alex Goligoski on the #1 PP. Bylsma and Co. finally listened, and the Pens promptly won something like 99 out of 100 games. Then, without consulting us, Bylsma decided to go back to a GoGo-Letang pairing on the point. Today we officially re-start the call to have Martin permanently on the #1 PP unit.
- The Pens are stuck in Phase 1 of the 12-step program for kicking an addiction to taking minor penalties - identification of the problem. Unfortunately, the Pens have been identifying this problem for 5 weeks, but decided last night to fall of the wagon in a big way. We tell ourselves that the Pens are a smart, experienced team who can kick this habit come playoff time -- let's hope.
- Speaking of penalties, this was a great night for all the parents who brought their kids to the game to watch the refs. Great performance by them, inserting themselves into the action throughout. It's always really exciting when that happens. Quick story - on Saturday night, Poise and I saw the four referees from the Caps-Panthers game out at a bar near Verizon Center. They had faux-hawks and shoes that came to a point at the end like a hamentashen. It confirmed what we have been thinking all along -- you can't trust a man in pointed-toe shoes.
- Marc Savard has entered the "glorified Scott Gomez" stage of his career - lots of gliding, swooping, and coast to coast rushes that at no point scare the other team.
- Congratulations to Auburn for winning the National Championship-of-6-weeks-after-the-season. The delay between the end of the season and the bowl games is inexcusable.
- Because of the busy TV night, the official Bachelor recap will have to wait another night. If you don't feel like waiting, here's a quick summary without having even seen it: "journey love journey walls heartbreak fairytale right reasons wrong reasons therapy broken walls up walls down thank you thank you magical dream come true vulnerable. journey." Artistry was able to watch and he sent two stream of consciousness emails about the show, which he described in an excited text message as "everything i dreamed and more."