Wednesday, April 6, 2011

GTOPG: Pens Win 4-2, We Discuss

By Artistry and Finesse

Artistry: Impressive win last night.  During a first period on-the-bench interview, Devils coach Jaques Lemaire told Brian Englom he was "surprised" that New Jersey "came out to win the game."  When you beat a team that wants to win that badly, it's gratifying.  Now the Penguins are suddenly within one point of the Flyers, who lost to Ottawa last night, and within three points of East-leading Washington.  Yet they could also end up with the 5th seed.  How is this still possible with only two games left in the regular season?  Only in the NHL, where the first 79 games mean virtually nothing.

Finesse: Just imagine if this were baseball and the first 160 games didn't mean anything.  Washington, Philly and Boston are the only teams in the Eastern Conference playoff field who the Pens could not play.  That leaves Tampa, Montreal, Buffalo, and the Rangers as possibilities.  And with Philly having to travel to a red-hot battling-for-their-lives Buffalo team on Friday, there is a legitimate shot that the Pens can win the Atlantic by winning their final two games.

Artistry: Astonishing. I'm going out on a limb here to predict that Friday's game on Long Island is going to be more entertaining than the NCAA basketball championship.  I would expect though, that while it will be the equivalent of the Super Bowl for Islanders fans, the Pens will be focused on getting a little momentum going on the power play.  Bylsma reconfigured the PP units last night, and we started to get some quality chances as the game progressed.  Terrific combination from Neal - one-touch pass, backwards, between the legs - to Staal for the late first period tally.  If Ron Cook were capable of shame, he would feel it this morning for comparing Neal to Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Finesse: Cook was right that Neal needs to do more than score 1 goal in 19 games, but the Pens are winning and he is playing well.  He's also playing most of his minutes with a rookie center (Letestu) who has been shaky since suffering a shoulder injury five games ago and Alex Kovalev, who used to skate gracefully and now just skates glacially.  But let's stick to the game last night, because it was a huge win.  Kennedy and Kunitz are like Kurri and Messier right now, and Fleury made 3 or 4 enormous saves right after the Devils closed it to 3-2.

Artistry: Flower is spectacular. The Penguins, by necessity, have become incredibly difficult to score against, and it starts with him.  As we noted in a recent post, three goals is almost always good enough to win with him. Why is Tyler Kurri only playing 13 minutes with the way he's going?  You knew Kunitz was going to score last night, what with the newborn baby.  It's Lemieux law, except Lemieux does everything five times.

Finesse: There were some perplexing ice time numbers last night.  First, Letang again played 25 minutes, which is too much for him to be playing night-in and night-out.  He's still fantastic, but his play has definitely slipped a little bit in the past couple months and you have to wonder whether he is wearing down.  If the Pens are locked in to a particular seed after next game, I say rest Letang for Game 82.  Craig Adams played an astonishingly high 15 minutes, and I loved every second of it.  Martin and Michalek played a combined 43 minutes compared to over 47 for Letang-Orpik.  But let me ask you...shouldn't we be treating Martin and Michalek as our #1 pairing?

Artistry:  That's a circumstantial designation on this team. As discussed at length over the course of the season, we're fortunate enough to have four legit 20-minute defensemen.  No question that Martin and Michalek are the "shutdown" pair that should hop over the boards anytime the opposition rolls out a Kovalchuk or an Ovechkin.  Think Scuderi and Gill, but with mobility.  Letang can skate forever, but I agree that if we have any hope of a long run, he shouldn't.  To your earlier point, Letestu is struggling, and in combination with the news that Dustin Jeffrey is out for the year, we're in big trouble down the middle against Tampa.  Jordan Staal can't play 30 minutes a night.

Finesse: You mean Talbot doesn't excite you as our #2 center?  How about when he crosschecked Marc Fraser in the back of the head, got a penalty, and then started throwing punches at Fraser's head trying to draw a penalty but nearly getting himself an extra 2 minutes?  Staal was great last night, and contrary to the 1,467th article Rossi has written titled, "Staal's Impact Goes Beyond Statistics," I prefer when his impact is measured in statistics.  I also think that Hand of Straight Baby Thighs, Son is my favorite player.

Artistry: What I wouldn't have given to be Payton Marie Kunitz last night, cradled so tenderly in his velvety hands. Yeah, I like him, too. In closing, I was struck by seeing assistant coaches and hall-of-famers Adam Oates and Larry Robinson huddling with Lemaire on the Devils' bench last night.  Pretty impressive group.  Then I remembered what Lemieux did to them.

What was Oates even thinking on that play?

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