We'd be lying if we told you that we watched the whole game last night, though the failure to do so isn't for lack of effort. It's just that it's January and the Pens have a 17-point lead in the division -- it's hard to live and die by a Tuesday nighter in Vancouver.
But here are some things that have been catching our attention ...
- We're in the midst of the highest combined level of play from Malkin and Crosby since the fall of 2010. They were jockeying for the scoring title before Malkin's injury and barring any more injuries, they're probably still going to end up 1-2 in scoring. And James Neal and Chris Kunitz will be right there in the top-10 with them. Despite really having only 4 legitimate top-6 players, the Pens have the most lethal top-6 in the NHL, and it's not that close.
|Look at Kunitz in the background thinking about how to utilize his velvety hands.|
The one exception is Brian Gibbons. He has only the most remote of chances to stick on the Penguins top line, if only because he's 5'8 and generously listed at 170 pounds. But he's been fun to watch these last few games - he's like Chris Connor with swagger and a lower center of gravity. That Gibbons looks comfortable with Crosby and Kunitz also puts the lie to the ridiculous notion that it's unusually hard to play with Crosby. Notice we said "unusually." It's hard to play with any great player, because, news flash, if you suck they won't want to play with you. Take James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. Neal has said before that Malkin can be very challenging because he has high standards for his wingers. Comes with the territory.
- Defying rumors that he had already flown to Sochi in anticipation of being named to the Canadian Olympic team, Kris Letang showed up in Vancouver last night. And for the first time in a long time, he looked like Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang. Perhaps the most realistic way for the Pens to solve their lack of offensive depth problem is to get more offense from their defense, and if the highlights and reports from last night are any indication, we may start getting that from Letang. Because Crosby and Malkin are healthy, and because it's January, scoring depth is not an urgent problem ... but it's a problem that will pop up after the Olympics and into the playoffs, and it's one that Letang will have to play a big part in solving.
- Since his healthy scratch, Olli Maatta is back in the 17-18 minute per night range, which is exactly where he should be.
- Fleury has had a strong year, especially coming off of last year's playoffs. But he's given up 3 goals or more 6 times in the past 8 games. Is this just a temporary market correction of his lofty stats early in the season ... or is this the real Fleury? Like the lack of scoring depth, goaltending is another issue bubbling just below the surface of the Pens' remarkable success so far this season.
|Such a Fleury picture.|
- Interesting analysis by Pensburgh on whether Sidney Crosby can pass Mario in points. Without looking at the numbers, it may seem highly likely that Sid would pass Mario eventually simply because of how many games Mario missed. But Mario scored a lot of points, and Sid has missed a lot of games, so it's going to require at least 8 more seasons of Crosby at his current level to get in the ballpark. The gut says that Crosby will do it because as he ages and maybe loses a step, he will morph his game into one that still relatively easily churns out 80-assist seasons into his late 30s. Other than an injury, the main reason he won't do it is because his salary drops abruptly from $9M to $3M per year for the final 3 years of his deal. $3M is a ton of money ... but it's not so much that he couldn't walk away from it.