The Penguins, to a man, will tell you they've got their eyes on the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They'll say that's why beating the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday was so significant. Don't believe it. Sure, they want to win, but catching Philly is only incidental. The real goal over the last eight games of the regular season is to peak at the right time and head into April on a roll. If last night is any indication, that's exactly what's happening. Let the Flyers have their garbage point for getting to overtime. Let them have the top seed and host the Rangers or Montreal in the first round. Best of luck to them. The Penguins killed the Flyers last night. It didn't even matter what happened in the shootout, aside from the fact that Alexei Kovalev rented a young mule named Sergei Bobrovsky, beat him, mercilessly, and left him by the side of the parkway on the way to the airport for Chris Kunitz to finish off.
From the opening shift, the Pens had a playoff focus and the change in their mentality from the early days without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin until now has never been more apparent. Think back. Do you remember when you wondered how this group of forwards could generate scoring chances and, even worse, that they seemed to be wondering the exact same thing? When you thought having Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy on either of the top two lines was a liability? When Ben Lovejoy was a frequent healthy scratch? Think about how far we've come. We know it's a lot to process. When you're ready, think about these things, too:
- Kunitz has pulled off an unlikely in-season transformation from wildly overpaid rich man's Craig Adams to legitimate first line winger, playmaker, finisher, punisher, leader, and American hero. He's always brought a physical presence on par with any winger in the league. His assist on Tyler Kennedy's goal was a perfect illustration of what an underrated passer he is. And he now has 22 goals in 59 games. Let's put a finer point on that last statistic. That's a 30 goal pace over 82 games. In a year when no one is going to score 50. Largely without Sidney Crosby in the middle. Folks, Chris Kunitz is a bargain. GTOG contributor Eloquence took it a step further this morning. "It's trendy this time of year to talk team MVPs," he said. "It's not Kunitz. But he should be in the conversation out of respect."
|GTOG milestone: searching for this image brought us to GTOG|
- Looks like Letang has an understudy. Brooks Orpik's return seems imminent and the question of who out of Niskanen, Lovejoy, and Engelland gets a spot on the third pairing has been answered. And answered emphatically. Ben Lovejoy has not only skyrocketed past Engelland and Niskanen on the depth chart, he is playing like a bona fide top 4 defenseman, if not better. Dan Bylsma is clearly taking notice, as Lovejoy had 21 minutes of ice time last night compared with 14 for Niskanen (who is starting to become noticeable for the wrong reasons) and 11 for Engelland (who got pushed around on the Flyers' goal). It appears Engelland will be the odd man out, but if the playoffs have taught us anything, it's that defensemen get hurt. Stay ready, D.E.
|Never know when you'll have to beat up Colton Orr|
- Dustin Jeffrey deserves better.
- The most laughable moment of last night's game: Steigerwald getting excited about the passion in Comrie during footage of injured players practicing. It sucks Malkin won't be back for playoffs, but at least Comrie will be ready to go!
- Jordan Staal may never approach 70-80 points like Claude Giroux, but make no mistake about it - Staal is the superior physical being. Staal on one late shift physically lifted Claude Giroux onto his back like a toddler, and twirled him around like they were on the merry-go-round. Giroux's response? He took a petty slashing penalty.
- Was that injured linesman's name Pierre Shampoo? If so, that's got the current top-spot as GTOG's #1 name of 2011.
- Kovalev is still a liability when he doesn't have the puck. Sometimes he's a liability when he does. But if the tank was empty on Monday in Detroit, Kovy found a gas station somewhere on the Pennsylvania turnpike and managed to floor it a few times over the course of the night.
- Out of all the restricted free agents in the league this summer, Tyler Kennedy has to be the toughest to price. Is this really what you're going to get from him? Is this just an extended hot streak? What is happening here?
A lot of heroes on Thursday. But today i-is Friday. The Devils are in town. LGP.