Fortunately for the Penguins, the Florida Panthers keep getting worse. Looking back, the Pens had to at least play a solid 20 minutes to beat them in November and again in December. On Sunday, nobody but team MVP Marc-Andre Fleury showed up until the shootout, and they still managed to pull within two points of the Eastern conference-leading Flyers. It helped that Tomas Vokoun, Florida's goalie and easily their best player these days, left the ice to take his talents to South Beach just prior to the start of overtime. Poor Scott Clemmenson had no idea what to do with Alexei Kovalev, or his water bottle, for that matter.
Kovy's hands are never the issue. About midway throught the first period, I made the note "You can't lose this game. But sometimes you do." It makes no sense, I realize. I think what that means is it's difficult to focus on stopping Alex Sulzer and Darcy Hordichuck when you would otherwise be eating Sunday brunch, shortly after ekeing out two intense overtime wins against fierce division rivals. Whatever, it was bad.
- The Panthers had no hope of scoring on Fleury on anything but a deflection. He anticipated every pass and snuffed out every rebound. If you polled NHL GMs right now and told them to pick a goalie to lead their franchise for the next 10 years, who do you think they take? Carey Price? Come on. Now ask those GMs if they think Fleury's 7 year, $35 million contract was a mistake.
- For a shift or two, it looked like the Penguins had lost their number two center, Max Talbot, to injury. Read that sentence back again.
- No team can make a run at the Cup without a consistent offensive threat or two at center. Can't be done. In a seven game series, you need to be able to pressure and wear down a defense, or you will get worn down. You can stay close, but you can't win more than a series or two. Jordan Staal is a horse, but he's not a consistent offensive threat. The Pens will not only need Crosby, they'll also need Mark Letestu and/or Dustin Jeffrey to be healthy and play a little bit better than anyone has a right to expect. This could happen. It's been happening all year.
- It's crucial that Brooks Orpik returned to the lineup now rather than at the start of the playoffs. With the emergence of Ben Lovejoy, Danny Bylsma needs some time to figure out optimal pairings and distribution of minutes. Doesn't Lovejoy warrant some additional power play time at this point? Can we do worse than 2-for-58?
It's only Monday morning, but guarantee you Fleury is already in the Flyers' heads. LGP.