The Penguins make it 3 wins in a row with a solid 4-1 showing at home over the Dallas Stars. Sidney Crosby, as usual, set the tone for the Pens. This time is was a goal on the opening shift, just :24 into the game. When Jordan Staal forced a turnover and got the puck to Tyler Kennedy (who in turn absolutely wired it over Mike Smith's shoulder) just 3:38 into the game, the rout was on. Dallas, not Pittsburgh looked like the team that hadn't played a game in almost a week. Nope, no signs of rust here. So here's my game observations before a trip tomorrow to another struggling opponent, the Make Beliefs.
- The Penguins are .500 for the first time since November 7th. Time to keep climbing. All four lines played well. The lower lines grided, the skill guys made skill plays.
- Early in the game, someone named Krys Barch decided he wanted to fight Georges Laraque. Barch decided to use the back of his head to smash BGL's fist about 5 times, then get tired and fall. Laraque easily retains his crown as the NHL's Heavyweight Champion.
- No Sergei Gonchar, no problem. For tonight at least. Ryan Whitney played the most minutes for defenseman (26:15) but that was inflated for all the PP time at the end of the game. Pretty much all the defensemen picked up the slack and did what they do best. Brooks Orpik hit (a game high 9 hits), Mark Eaton blocked 5 shots (and was named the 3rd star of the game), Robert Scuderi chewed up minutes, Darryl Sydor jumped right back in the lineup (more later) and Kris Letang didn't make any rookie mistakes.
- 5 points (1g, 4a) in the past 3 games for Colby Armstrong (the 2nd star of the night). He's responded well from his frequent healthy scratches.
- Crosby shot the puck 11 times. 2 scored, 6 were saved by Smith, 2 got blocked and 1 missed the net. Any time Sid is shooting that much, I like how it's looking.
- Sydor easily transitioned back into the lineup, and even though he screened Marc-Andre Fleury on the only goal against, he made the play perfectly on Crosby's 2nd goal. Sydor belongs with the Pens, not on Old Man Recchi's train out of town.
- Speaking of the netminder, Fleury was near perfect. The only goal he gave up was the result of a bad Ryan Malone turnover that developed into a 2 on 2 that Mike Ribeiro took a great shot on. Fleury didn't make any 5 star saves, but he didn't have to. Still, he stopped 22 of 23, something the Pens will take every time.
- Jordan Staal had a really authoritative night, as mentioned he made Kennedy's gamewinner happen, but he was just 20% (2 for 10) in the faceoff circle.
- Speaking of Mr. Kennedy, he had his best night in a Penguin sweater so far, being an absolute buzzsaw hustling around the ice, winning battles and of course, scoring the game winning goal.
- Saving the best individual play for last: Petr Sykora did his thing and threw a puck for the easiest goal Malkin could hope for. Erik Christensen's role of driving to the net won't make the headlines, but you can bet he had the Dallas goalie's attention.
As you can see, I pretty much mentioned every member of the Pens team (except for maybe Adam Hall and Dany Sabs), something I don't normally do... It was a great team effort tonight. The skill players showcased their skill, the fighter fought, the grinders grinded, the defenseman defensed and the netminder minded his net. A tremendous effort that was near perfect.
Hopefully the team doesn't read blogs like this and start thinking how good they are. They're only at .500 and far from a playoff spot. Still, the last 3 games have been very, very encouraging.