Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pens get wake-up call from good team; Crosby's like, "I've been up for hours." Pens win, 4-3

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

It was nice to finally see the Pens play a team that actually made the playoffs last season, though the results were mixed.  The Pens won, which is obviously nice, but the Canucks carried the play for a good portion of the afternoon.  Such is life against real teams.  A few random thoughts before the Red Zone channel comes on...

- Calculating that someone is on a particular scoring pace after 8 games is usually a pointless exercise, but this season, there may be an exception.  Sidney Crosby is on pace for 174 points.  If that seems inconceivable in today's NHL, that's because it probably is.  But 150 points?  Absolutely in play, health permitting.

- Crosby's level play is obviously an amazing thing, but it does put into clear focus just how reliant the Pens are on him right now.  Without Neal, who will obviously help Malkin, and without Letang, who will make every line a threat to score just by being on the ice, the Pens at even strength are extremely dependent on their three best forwards (Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz) for scoring.  Consider:

The Pens have a total of four even strength goals so far this season on which Crosby, Malkin or Kuntiz haven't had a point (excluding Adams' empty netter against Buffalo).  And none in the past four games.  It's a small sample size so maybe the scoring evens out, but as Boston proved last season, if a good team really wants to shut a few guys down, they probably can.  The Pens have plenty of firepower.  It's just all in a few big guns.

You can imagine how this made us feel.
- Yesterday we brought up the not-that-crazy-anymore idea that Fleury could earn an invite to Sochi if he keeps playing well and all the other Canadian goalies keep being pedestrian.  But even though he played really well overall yesterday, the first goal he gave up ... from center ice, off his chest, over his head, then in the net ... is why he is probably too high of a risk for Team Canada.  It's one thing if that happens in the 8th game of the season against Vancouver.  But if -- and arguably when -- he gives up a goal like that in Sochi and it's on the cover of every sports page in the world?  Now you have an international incident, and unfortunately for Fleury, he won't have Paul Steigerwald there to repeatedly refer to it as an unlucky bounce.

- It looks like Olli Maatta will be sticking around for a while, which leaves the Pens with some tough choices once Letang gets back.  Niskanen-Maatta is a very skilled third pairing ... both are good skaters and both are good with the puck ... but may not be the best when pinned deep in the Pens' own zone.  A possible work-around: Play Niskanen and Maatta, as frequently as possible, with the Crosby line.  Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis can keep the puck in the offensive zone, and Niskanen and Maatta are talented enough to finish the opportunities Sid creates.  This allows the Pens to spread Letang's offensive ability over the other three lines which, Geno excluded, could use the help.

Doesn't need help.

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