Sunday, February 3, 2008

Without Crosby the usual suspects keep coming through

"Geno like girls" (and goals)

We all know even without one of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby, the Pens have Evgeni Malkin to be a #1 center, as he would be on practically any other organized team on this planet.

But one star (Crosby or Malkin) does not a team make. As we've pointed out here on TST the supporting cast of skilled players (Petr Sykora, Ryan Malone, Jordan Staal, and Erik Christensen) are going to have to produce to keep the victories coming.

For the most part they have all seemed energized in shouldering the burden left in Crosby's void, and they've all produced when it counts. The above five (plus Maxime Talbot) have proved to have the consistency to use their skill to keep the Penguins competitive. Combine that with the inspired play of the NHL's top goalie over the past 6 weeks (Ty Conklin: 12-3-1 with a GAA around 2.00 and a save percentage near 94%) and the NHL's top powerplay point scorer (defenseman Sergei Gonchar 30) with it's easy to see why the Pens have been rolling, even without last years Art Ross, Hart and Pearson Trophy winner.

It took 40 minutes, but the team came out of their shell with Crusher's goal less than a minute into the third stanza. Add to that what proved to be the reviewed game winner from the Penguin called the inconsistent skilled player (Malone) and you're getting to the recipe of success.

Unforutanetly for the Pens both New Jersey and Philadelphia both won tonight, so no ground was made up. Next week there are only two games, both are critically important since they are both division games--against the Devils and the always scrappy Islanders. Two more chances to prove that even without Crosby the team can still keep pace with the other top teams in the conference and not lose ground in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division.

Other thoughts:

  • Even though it was with a two goal lead in the 3rd period and on a powerplay, Sykora batting a puck out of mid air into the net shows what incredible talent he has.

  • Kudos to Therrien for moving Brooks Orpik back to defense. Even though Colby Armstrong was healthy and ready to come back, I really expected Orpik (and not Therrien favorite Alain Nasreddine) to be scratched. Orpik rewarded his coach on Geno's back-breaking goal by bringing the puck up ice and dishing it just before getting decked.

  • Speaking of the Geno goal, him taking the pass as center ice, skating hard to split two d-men and then put the puck inside the post was very much shades of Crosby or an Alex Ovechkin play. That's the kind of burden that Malkin has to (and has been) carrying every night that Crosby is out.

  • Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour feasted, as you'd expect, in the faceoff circle winning 67% of his draws. That's impressive. That he took 24 faceoffs too is even more.

  • The Pens defense quietly did a good job; they blocked 15 Carolina shots (lead by Darryl Sydor's 4). Rob Scuderi eat up 21:45 minutes, impressive since it all came at even strength or on the penalty kill against the Hurricane's top forwards and he remained +1. That, in itself, is a terrific sign. Gonchar, as usual, continued to be the leading ice-time getter for both clubs with 26:31.

  • The unsuspended Jarkko Ruutu had 15:25 of icetime and didn't take a penalty--which has to be some kind of personal best. Ruutu also threw 4 shots on net (though two missed). Good to see him not be affected by the controversy of last game and have a positive impact.

As you could see from the notes, we highlighted a lot of players, because it was a team effort. Most everyone played their roles to perfection. The skilled players ended up producing (even if it took two periods) and everyone--save Ryan Whitney, recored a positive or even plus/minus rating.

That's the way it's going to have to be in a tight race, especially while playing a non-division opponent and while the top competition (NJD and Philly) ended up both won by 3 goal margins as well. This ought to lead for good momentum and confidence for the good guys as they go into Jersey Monday night; especially since they just scored 4 goals on the legandary Martin Brodeur and generally outworked the Devs less than a week ago.

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