Friday, February 11, 2011

GTOPG: Pens Get To Their Skill Set; Survive The Kings, 2-1

By Finesse

Usually in a tight game when the Pens are missing some of their top players, I start rooting for overtime with about 3-4 minutes left.  You just can't afford to lose that point.  For last night's game, I started rooting for overtime at about 3-4 in the afternoon.  The day before.  All credit in the world should be given to Marc-Andre Fleury, Brett Sterling, Nick Johnson, Pascal Dupuis (22:16 of ice time), and others for their performance, but there was one true hero last night who loomed larger than the rest.

The Missing Piece
In the first period, the Kings' Justin Williams put a sick move on Fleury and had a wide open net until Michalek reached back and slapped the puck away.  Had the Kings scored there and gone up 1-0, this is a completely different recap.  In fact, we probably would have just taken our Columbus recap, changed a few names, and republished.  You just can't underestimate the importance of that save by Michalek.  His second save later in the period was nearly as important.

Sure, you could complain to me that Michalek was also at fault for the goal the Kings scored to even it up 1-1, but that was a 2-on-3 so I blame more than just him.  Plus, the key for this Baby Pens' squad is scoring first and Michalek's first period save on Williams was just as important to this game as Brett Sterling's rocket wrister to Kovy's Korner.

- Speaking of Sterling, he's a guy with NHL-caliber offensive instincts with the frame of a junior in high school.  You could tell that every time he had the puck, he knew what to do and he also knew how to get himself in scoring position when he was away from the puck.  He's probably too small to stick around long-term, but there aren't many minor leaguers who bury that wrister with the poise and confidence that he did.

- One of the hidden problems with all the injuries, other than the fact that almost all of our good players are hurt, is that it has become nearly impossible to get to the power play with this depleted lineup.  In  no way am I blaming the refs - in fact, I credit the refs for not feeling compelled to call an even amount of penalties against both teams.  The simple fact, much to the shock and dismay of Rangers and Caps fans, is that great players like Crosby and Malkin don't draw penalties because they are famous -- they draw penalties because they are incredibly talented and force the other team to take penalties.  The current Pens lineup simply doesn't have the horses for force the opponent to take penalties.  You earn powerplays in the NHL, and right now, the Pens don't have a lot of guys who can earn it.

"Do we still get paid under-the-table even though Crosby is hurt?"
- I'm not sure whether to credit Bylsma for playing the AHL guys together or whether he had to simply because there was no other choice.  But either way, it seems like a good idea.  There was clearly good chemistry between Johnson and Sterling, and it also allows the NHL guys - Staal, Dupuis, Kennedy, etc. - to continue playing together.  An all-AHL line is not sustainable long-term, but it can be effective at times.  What else do we have to lose?  (Oh right, Dustin Jeffrey to injuy).  Plus, Bylsma unveiled my new favorite Bylsmism during the interview with Errey: "get to your skill set."  GTYSS.

- Jordan Staal may have been the OT hero, but we shouldn't forget that the rest of his night was, well, forgettable.  He was almost non-existent and I don't think he even had the puck long enough to stickhandle at any point during regulation.  Obviously, you  take the win and you love the heart he showed in OT, but he needs to be a 60-minute presence.  And last night, he wasn't even close, until literally the last second of regulation when the Original Piece, Rob Scuderi, blocked his wraparound attempt that was otherwise going in. Staal is at his best offensively when he gets the puck off his stick and on net quickly, as we saw on the game-winner.

- Also not close were the Kings' shots.  They were firing like Alex Semin in the playoffs.  The Pens get all the credit on this blog, but the Kings have to be kicking themselves.  One guy from the Kings who we would love to see in a Pens' uniform - Justin Williams.  He almost scored on every shift.

- Finally, a word about Kris Letang. He's fallen dramatically off the point-per-game pace he had going for the first half of the season (he now has 41 pts in 56 games), but that's to be expected with all of the injuries. And if you're focused on that statistic, you're missing something. Something big. This guy has turned into one of the top 5 defenseman in the league in all facets of the game. He punishes people defensively, he's quicker on the puck than virtually anyone, he's got ridiculous speed with the puck, and he plays with an edge. The play in the second period where he moved in deep, then swung sharply to the net, shielded the defender from the puck, got off a backhand shot, and drew a penalty? World class.

We're on Long Island tonight to play the Islanders for like the 18th time this season. Brent Johnson's in net, and he's looking to knock someone out. LGP.

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