Thursday, February 17, 2011

GTOPG: Staal Takes a Deep Breath; Pens Win, 3-2

By Artistry

Leave it to Battlin' Bob Errey, the Penguins' tirelessly effervescent color analyst, to include "Take a Deep Breath" among his "Tips To Win" and fail to point out that Wednesday's game was being played in the high altitude of Denver, meaning this "Tip" could be interpreted both literally and figuratively. Love you, Bobby, but that was a fastball down the middle, and you got caught looking. Anyway, Jordan Staal and his merry band of Wilkes Barre elves took your advice to heart. Number One Center must have taken an enormous breath, because he logged 25 minutes of ice time in the thin air, mostly with some gigantic Irish defenseman riding his back, ripped a shot by Peter Budaj to tie the game at 2-2 late in the second period, and generally was the best player on the ice. Then he created havoc in the slot on a power play in overtime, leaving Tyler Kennedy to score one of the more satisfying goals of the season into an open net. He's not Sid, he's not Geno, but don't forget for a minute who Jordan Staal is.

Go ahead, let yourself imagine what a terror Staal would be right now as a third line center. The fact that Number One Center's wingers last night were Brett Sterling and Nick Johnson could be construed as "unfortunate" or "terrible." Except, in reality, those guys are pretty good, right? Easily the most underrated thing Ray Shero has done as general manager is stock the Wilkes-Barre roster with guys who can step into the Pens' lineup and look like they expect to be there. How about Joe Vitale? He was everywhere last night. He's lightning quick, gritty, and smart. And when in the first period, Paul Martin found Brett Sterling with a beautiful, long lead pass and Sterling led Vitale perfectly as he hopped down the slot, Jumpin' Joe knew what to do.

Laser. This is bittersweet, and not just because you've probably only heard of Joe Vitale because the Penguins are on the verge of putting Dr. Charles Burke in the lineup. It also points pretty directly to the end of Max Talbot's career in Pittsburgh. But that's a discussion for another day. For now, a few other thoughts on a crucial two points in Denver:

- Shero has got to be pestering Colorado about Milan Hejduk. That guy does not skate like a 35-year-old. He's still a point-per-game guy, a sniper, and, most importantly, he's a pending UFA making $3 million a year. Perfect fit. He may have a no-trade clause - somebody look that up - but the Avs are going nowhere this year. He would be free to pull a Recchi and resign with Colorado over the summer. For now, please join us.

- The WBS Elves are bringing great energy, but the patchwork power play makes me long for the days when the Pens just had a woefully underachieving power play. They had zero shots on 3 out of 4 power plays in regulation. And, as discussed on the GTOG podcast earlier this week, the team defense is still suffering from the lack of lineup continuity. Guys are swimming out there for long stretches.

- Kris Letang is trying to do too much right now. He needs to scale it back. Regardless of our deficiencies at forward, he can't play such a risky style in a close game. That's got to be the message from Bylsma this week.

- Brandon Yip. Yip Yip. Yip.

- Vitale, you ready? Good. Because look at the schedule.

Feb. 20 - @ Chicago
Feb. 21 - vs. Washington
Feb. 23 - vs. San Jose


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