Normally, you don't even need to watch when the Penguins go into New Jersey. You know Marty Brodeur will probably have our number, it'll feel like 1995 trap-a-palooza, and you'll need to fight the urge to fast forward until something happens. But if you skipped the game - maybe you were watching the Seton-La Salle girls exact vengeance on Jeannette in the WPIAL Class AA championship, we don't know - there are some things you missed. Here's what we learned:
1) The Penguins deserved to win. They maintained a distinct territorial advantage against by far the hottest team in the league. With their win last night, the Devils are a ridiculous 19-2-2 in their last 23 games. But again, we couldn't finish. It did not help that after crushing Travis Zajac with a check 6 minutes into the game, Kris Letang got caught with his shirt untucked. Zajac dropped his gloves, Letang's jersey wasn't tied down, and that's an automatic game misconduct.
2) The stars are on the blueline. With the top pairing of Letang and Orpik sidelined, we saw the real strength of this team. Paul Martin logged 35 stellar minutes. Zibby Michalek went for 28. Ben Lovejoy and Matty Ice continued to impress. And Deryk Engelland rebounded nicely from a poor showing on Wednesday in Toronto. The interference penalty on Michalek with two minutes remaining in overtime was a joke. The defense is as good as it looked on paper in the preseason, which is nice, because, as discussed, we can't score, and Alexei Kovalev is hazardous defensively.
|Dangerous in Every Zone|
4) James Neal needs a center. Finesse's dad, never one to not jump to hasty conclusions about sports, sent a text during the game asking if James Neal is the new Poni-Boy. Way too early for that kind of talk, but is it too early to expect more? Probably. He's not playing poorly. He just joined a team in turmoil, with which he probably can't identify because he arrived after everybody got hurt, and he probably doesn't even know the people who are injured. Also, he's playing on one of the most random lines ever assembled. Think about it: What would have been the odds at the beginning of the season that James Neal, Mark Letestu, and Alexei Kovalev would be a team's number one line? The main reason it is too early to evaluate Neal is that he looks like a winger who needs a top notch center. He had that in Dallas with Brad Richards, but doesn't have it now. This is no knock on Letestu - he's a young player and is doing the best he can. But Sid and Geno will set Neal up on the doorstep. Letestu sets him up in Cranberry.
5) Tyler Kennedy is making himself some money. 8 goals in 14 games. A bullet over Brodeur's left shoulder. Kennedy is an RFA-to-be making $725,000. Artistry still thinks the Pens should have dealt him at the deadline for Patrick Sharp, Brett Seabrook, and two #1 draft picks.
6) Martin Brodeur can retire now. Is there anything more annoying than losing to Martin Brodeur? He's obviously a great goalie, but when he does his retro 1985-style kick saves, it just really bothers us. Kennedy's snipe job was a thing of beauty, not just because it was a goal, but because it meant no Brodeur shutout, a 50/50 proposition going into this game.
Redemption time for Letang tonight in Boston. Kunitz may or may not be back. And we have a hunch Fleury's playing. LGP.