Islanders' goalie Rick DiPietro grabbed the spotlight with his ill-conceived antics at the end of Wednesday's win over New York, but that shouldn't overshadow the Penguins' effort during the first 59 minutes. Coming off arguably their most important win of the season Tuesday against the Rangers, the Pens flew home, again shrugged off the absence of their top centers, and completely shut down an increasingly dangerous Islander team. There are many reasons why the Penguins continue to win games even with $18 million in talent shaved from the roster, but reason #1 has to be Dan Bylsma. He's got these guys ready to skate through a wall for him, and I know you can picture the pre-game speech: "Jeffrey, you ready? Good, because you're going, and you're Sidney Crosby tonight." The Pens just pulled within one point of East leading Philadelphia, and the Flyers may be getting nervous watching that train approaching in their rearview. If they're not, they should be.
- The Penguins are still able to pressure teams without Sid and Geno because of the stunning mobility and passing skills of their defensemen. From Kris Letang down through Deryk Engelland, these guys are right on the puck in their own end, and when they get it on their tape, they are immediately pressuring the other way. It's a huge advantage, even if it doesn't show up on the scoresheet, because these guys control the game. Prime Minister Paul Martin was everywhere last night. And Alex Goligoski deserves kudos for drastically improved defensive play.
- Mark Letestu is a fine player, and if he is out for an extended period with a knee injury, the Penguins' will certainly feel his loss. But I'm not sure there's going to be much, if any, drop-off with Dustin Jeffrey as the third line center. Not offensively, anyway. Jeffrey did not look out of place at all last night centering Dupuis and Kunitz. A fitting reward for what he did against the Rangers. He may not be as handsy as Testy, but management's assessment that DJ has a high hockey IQ looks right on.
- We joke incessantly here about Chris Kunitz having soft hands; it's supposed to be an ironic nod to the surprising scoring feats of a guy nicknamed "Hands of Stone." Query whether this is even ironic anymore.
- It was gratifying to see Max Talbot find the empty net Wednesday, because if ever a guy has carried a team for a stretch without being able to score, that's been Talbot for the past couple of games. He's had no fewer than 5 point blank shots - one shorthanded wrister rang off two posts last night - and he just hasn't been able to cash in. But that's not all he's done. Talbot absolutely punished the Islanders last night with bodychecks. He wanted to win more than anyone on the ice, and it wasn't close. If we're healthy and Max and his band of checking line brothers - Adams, Rupp, Conner, Cooke - bring it like this in spring, plan the parade.
- Just when Ilya Kovalchuk was beginning to make his case for "Worst NHL Contract Ever," there was $67 million man Rick DiPietro last night saying, "Hey, look at me!" This guy would be Ron Hextall if Hextall rarely played and couldn't fight. I guess the Isles looked at the tape of backup goalie Kevin Poulin's performance in last week's game in Pittsburgh where he stopped 30 of 31 shots and looked like Patrick Roy and thought, nah, no way we go with him again.
- Note to the fans at Consol Energy Center: you should have been going out of your minds for these guys last night. Get a clue. LGP.