We might feel a little silly about dissecting the 5th game of the NHL regular season were it not for this little factoid: with the condensed schedule, we're now more than 10% of the way to the playoffs. It's not that early. Just kidding, we never feel silly dissecting a regular season hockey game.
The Penguins got a big win Sunday against an Ottawa team that put up 8 goals against them in their last meeting, and they did it despite making some of the same careless errors that plagued them against Winnipeg and Toronto. The difference Sunday was a really strong game by Marc-Andre Fleury, a renewed commitment to making simple plays in the defensive zone, and Paul Martin once again taking control of the nation of Canada.
Let's break it down.
- Fleury looked like he hasn't since his last big hot streak last spring, standing tall, taking really aggressive angles, and seeing the puck well in traffic. If he is one of the Penguins' top 3 players, they are incredibly tough to beat. The question always is whether he can stay at that level. As good as he was for most of the night, the Senators' regulation goal came off a juicy rebound of a type that looks way too familiar already early this season. Erik Karlsson's bad-angle shot leaked right through him and came to rest on the goal line. Fleury thought this was funny. We didn't. And he was uncharacteristically bad in the shootout. Still, on balance, a very encouraging showing.
- Speaking of Erik Karlsson, Jesus. What a phenomenal talent. At one point he had the puck on a string just inside the Pens' blue line in a stick-handling display that was so risky, yet so breathtaking, you almost couldn't believe what you were seeing. He toys with people out there. For a few shifts anyway, Erik Karlsson made Kris Letang look like a poor man's Erik Karlsson. No slight against Letang, Karlsson is that scary offensively.
|Letang with the edge in coiffure.|
- As impressive as the D was for much of the game, this isn't sustainable. If Niskanen is out for any period of time, we're looking at Martin, Letang, and Orpik hitting 27, 28 minutes every night, because the coaches are loathe to play Engelland and Lovejoy for more than 12-15 minutes a night. They're suddenly averse to playing Simon Despres at all. Gotta pick up another defenseman. Until then? Meet Bob.
- The shootout was just a testament to casual greatness.
- The Ottawa media named Craig Anderson the No. 1 star of the game apparently just because he didn't curl up and weep in the crease.
- There's a lot of chatter (i.e., a friend is texting me) about the Pens needing another top 6 winger. The Pens don't need a top 6 winger. They would really, really like one. The Pens need another defenseman. The problem up front is people are just miscast. Put TK back on the third line with Sutter and Cooke, who miss him dearly. That's not sarcasm, TK really makes that unit tick. Put Tanner Glass on the fourth line with Vitale and Adams. And until the inevitable deadline deal for a wing, give Dustin Jeffrey a three game tryout with Geno and Neal.
- Scoring is not the issue. Secondary scoring is not the issue, unless you have a very particular definition of the word "secondary." The Pens get primary scoring from Geno's line. They get secondary scoring from Sid's line. What they're lack is tertiary scoring. So do most teams. But I would be comfortable that a Sutter-Kennedy-Cooke line would pot one here or there.
- More importantly, the power play was terrible on Sunday. Too much play just inside the offensive zone and absolutely no presence down low.
- Reckless passing by our top players continues. The defensemen were able to compensate for that carelessness with some incredible individual efforts. I think Letang caught some guy that had about 30 strides on him.
We've got a report card on the first 5 games coming shortly. No time for rest yet.